Editorial Reviews for Harry Crews' The Knockout Artist:
Crews, one of the most inventive practitioners in modern American letters, returns to a milieu that has long fascinated him: the seedy world of fighters and musclemen. Eugene Talmadge Biggs, ex-farmboy and ex-boxer (he won 13 fights and lost the next four by knockouts), knows an amazing trick: he can knock himself out with one punch to the jaw.
Abandoned by his manager, Crews's glass-jawed hero has to support himself by exhibiting his trick at parties. After 73 self-inflicted KO's, the routine gets a little wearing. Meanwhile, Eugene is taken up by Charity, a rich, all-but-the-dissertation Ph.D. candidate bent on constructing a thesis that relates every fact in the world to every other fact. She thinks Eugene and his prizefighting friends are a gold mine of information for this dubious project. A brilliant specialist in black humor, Crews delivers the goods once again.
His deadpan prose style is uncannily effective in meshing the surreal and everyday life. While the characters are mainly freaks, they come across so directly, often with an affecting sweetness, that they acquire extraordinary vibrancy. Crews is a modernist all right, but he isn't a facile one. The moral here and elsewhere in his work is old-fashioned: to thine own self be true.
~ Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From The New York Times: Books of The Times; A Pugilist's Descent Into a Self-Inflicted Hell
Now there are hells and there are hells. Dante's had its circles, Dostoyevsky's was the condition of not being able to love, Joyce's was a priest's long-winded metaphors, and Sartre's was a place with no exit.
Each is frightening in its way. And so is Eugene Biggs's. A fast, darkly satirical and astonishing masterwork.
~ April 18, 1988, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
A superbly crafted novel of deceptions and darkness, this look at the underside of a strange group in New Orleans moves inexorably toward a stunning climax. Eugene Gibbs, a failed boxer, becomes popular on the kinky circuit and is taken in hand by Charity, a wealthy girl who beds him. Eugene is drawn into the circle of another boxer, his addict girlfriend, a hooker/lesbian, and a wealthy businessman who gets his kicks by controlling people by day and being led about with a leash by night. Basically decent, Eugene is tormented because he is deceived and let down by everyone, except a young boxer he is training.
Characterization, incidents, and tone are all beautifully sustained in this unusual, brutal and brilliant book.
~ R. H. Donahugh, Youngstown and Mahoning Cty. P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Harry Eugene Crews was born during the Great Depression to sharecroppers in Bacon County, Georgia. His father died when he was an infant and his mother quickly remarried. His mother later moved her sons to Jacksonville, Florida. Crews is twice divorced and is the father of two sons, Scott and Byron. His eldest son, Scott, drowned in 1964. Crews served in the Korean War and, following the war, enrolled at the University of Florida under the G.I. Bill. After two years of school, Crews set out on an extended motorcycle road trip. He returned to the University of Florida in 1958. Later, after graduating from the master's program, Crews was denied entrance to the graduate program for Creative Writing. He moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where he taught English at Broward Community College. In 1968, Crews' first novel, The Gospel Singer, was published. Crews returned to the University of Florida as an English faculty member and headed the very creative writing program, to which he had previously been denied entrance. In spring of 1997, Crews retired from UF to devote himself fully to writing. Crews published continuously since his first novel, on average of one novel per year. He died in 2012, at the age of 78.