Readers who care about preserving local American businesses will appreciate a new book by novelist and garlic farm owner Stanley Crawford, The Garlic Papers: A Small Garlic Farm in the Age of Global Vampires. In the fall of 2014, Crawford questioned the U.S. Department of Commerce’s granting of an exemption of duties to the largest importer of Chinese garlic, setting off a massive legal battle in which his small farm in New Mexico has been pitted against the Chinese importer and its several international law firms. An account of this David and Goliath battle, now in its fifth year, makes up the core of the book, in which Crawford describes his personal and farming life under a cloud of lawsuits and administrative skirmishes. The unusual case was of sufficient interest that it became the subject of a Netflix documentary, “Garlic Breath,” in the six-part series, “Rotten,” released in 2018.
This rollicking ride through a single day in the ill-fated village of San Marcos will leave you reeling with laughter, even as you cringe at the misadventures of the hapless Porter Clapp and his pitiable wife, Steph; the jaundiced Onésimo Moro and his ever-watchful spouse, Isabel; and the rest of Crawford’s riotous cast. At this story’s beginning, a meeting notice from the state water agency, posted at the local store, seems to portend an imminent threat to the valley’s precious acequias. But perhaps more ominous—at least to the paranoid Clapp— is the possibility of the outside world meddling with the isolation, blissful or not, of this remote Hispanic plaza town. As the time of the meeting looms, we follow the characters through the day and become immersed in a place unnervingly familiar to anyone who has lived in Northern New Mexico. Crawford spares no one from his acerbic wit and skewering prose, yet there remains an unmistakable affection for the marvelously dysfunctional community and the very faults that he so eloquently parodies. As the tale unfolds, we dread the incipient threat from outside the valley less and be- gin to hope that something will deflect the downward spiral every character seems doomed to follow—but nothing anticipates or prepares us for the denouement that Crawford skillfully delivers, leaving us punch drunk with mirth.
Village is vintage Crawford. It is a wickedly perceptive, dyspeptic but loving, often hilarious, often tragic, portrait of one day in San Marcos–a place that doesn’t exist in only one place in rural New Mexico, but ultimately becomes more real than its models. There are no heroes (except perhaps the long-suffering mayordomo of the ditch), but a lot of very human humans who are slowly revealed as surfaces give way to depths. A great read for those who are familiar with Norteño culture and those who are not.
“This is a truly wonderful novel–a delightful portrait of an utterly engaging cast from a northern New Mexico village. Anyone interested either in the tragicomedy of the human condition or in the real life of New Mexico should get a copy right away. A profound and enchanting new classic from the Sangre de Cristo mountains.”
“This novel, Village, is vintage Crawford . . .In short, true to life . . .love, death, sex, depression, poverty, ditch cleaning, love of automobiles, teenage craziness, bits of euphoria . . .all mingle with the natural world through which the human community stumbles. The book is a rich portrait, with millions of wonderful details.”
Stanley Crawford has crafted a tale in the vein of Tony Hillerman’s The Taos Bank Robbery and John Nichol’s The Milagro Beanfield War, but with complete originality. This loving portrait of life in a northern New Mexico hamlet is as amusing as it is accurate. Village is a splendid read. Orale!
In this melancholy novel about a man on the brink of suicide, Stanley Crawford allows readers to question what it really means to be close to a person. Intimacy follows an unnamed narrator planning his own death. His preparations become a trigger and occasion for him to revisit key moments in his life and his material possessions, which are the solid artifacts from his life’s journey.
As sparrows in flight might form a single arrow, the life of the narrator comes into focus as a collage of fleeting events and images. Readers gain insights into tiny moments that slowly build into a picture of a man who seems to have very little, aside from material possessions, to lose.
The narrative pulls the reader along a trail of digressions—about running shoes, about the symbolism of rings—that lead down a proverbial rabbit hole until we realize the narrator’s intentions. Despite our lack of concrete knowledge about the narrator’s life, he allows us to share his thought processes: how every thought leads to the next, how memories seep upward when he picks up a particular T-shirt, or when he glimpses his car keys. And alongside our growing understanding of the narrator comes a recognition of our own thought processes: how we, like him, relate to our bodies; how we, too, cannot break away from the constant motion of our thoughts.
Intimacy is a brief, intense novel charged with the heightened sense of closeness that comes from watching a man’s last hours. It illuminates how brief snapshots of memory can trace the outline of an entire life.
Seed is the story of Bill Starr's Final days. Childless but with a lifetime's worth of possessions and a nearly infinite web of extended family, Bill endeavors to empty his house completely before he dies by summoning distant relatives to claim their inheritance. Many of his letters go unanswered, but those who do appear show up only to find that their reward is often much less valuable than they might expect.
What they get instead are Bill's memories, made vivid by each item from the past, memories that are more exotic and curious than the lives currently lived by his younger relatives.
Accompanied by his housekeeper, Ramona, and his handyman, Jonathan, Bill is a somewhat cantankerous, wildly intelligent, and often forgetful man who recalls and speaks to his passed wife, often thinking that she's not dead. His unwillingness to recognize what has happened to her and to give away his only possession of any value, a 1937 Pierce-Arrow automobile that they bought together, becomes the measure of his grief and his love in this profoundly funny novel that faces death and love sincerely.
"Seed is an anti-quest narrative: our hero sleeps, aggrieved, in his chair, dreaming of shedding possessions. He is ferocious, uncertain, disheveled, a spirit kindred to Unguentine, a mess and easy to love. Another brilliant and hilarious novel by a great American Writer."
“Seed is one of the finest novels I have ever read.”
“Stanley Crawford has given us this masterwork, a book so funny, so generous, and so perceptive that it feels like an unforgettable evening spent with your family’s weirdest and wisest scion. Seed shows us that the twilight we must face—both individually and as an empire—can be more illuminating than our most verdant noon.”
Scotty’s family owns a lodge near their silver mine in the Colorado Rockies. Summers at the lodge are idyllic for Scotty and his cousin Mickey. The grown-ups are dealing with the complications of business and adult dysfunction, but the boys are more interested in the complications of puberty, especially when Rosalind, the teen-age daughter of family friends, is on hand. To read this quiet, rich evocation of adolescent watchfulness is to experience what it is like to be fourteen years old, waiting for something to happen, aware of everything but oblivious to as much of it as possible. Readers will be reminded of such modern masters as William Maxwell and John Updike.
"A wonderful portrait of the natural world and of the beginning of childhood’s end, written with simplicity, rich humor, poetic depth, and restraint. The writing is very evocative of the time period, with deeply accurate descriptions of everyday things that bespeak the late 1940s. You really believe you are there. Throughout, there is a tranquility to the prose that is hard to match. What is unsaid underneath this tranquility is very powerful. There is also a quiet but lovely humor throughout the book. You just don’t get books as well crafted and original as this very often.”
“The Canyon quietly startles and enthralls as Stanley Crawford enters into the secret sensibility of a child who is very good at watching, listening, and noticing. Unsparing yet without judgment, passionate yet unsentimental, The Canyon is a work of sturdy delicacy where Memory itself is the central character. There is no finer stylist of American prose than Stanley Crawford.”
Petroleum Man is a novel of Swiftean malice and biting humor that challenges the dogmas of both sides of the current sociopolitical divide-blue states and red states, haves and have-nots, trickle-down conservatives and bleeding-heart liberals. Bewildered by the odious "liberal democrat" tendencies of his son-in-law Chip, Leon Tuggs -self-made arch-capitalist billionaire, inventor of the ubiquitous and environmentally hazardous Thingie®, and author of the influential General Theory of Industrial Sex-decides to rescue his grandchildren from a life of guilt, indecision, and existential anxiety, by educating them in the way the world actually works and telling them the things no teacher or parent in our politically-correct and morally-relative world could ever venture to say. These life lessons he gives to his grandchildren are accompanied by gifts-cast-iron replicas of the cars that he has owned during his his own life, a life in cars.
From the 1939 Ford Fordor Sedan, in which the idea for Tuggs's first invention was conceived, to the 1992 Lincoln Town Car Stretch Limousine, the entrée to a hysterically charged confrontation between Tuggs and his family, Petroleum Man takes delight in exposing the vanity and frailty of some of the most popularly held prejudices of our times.
"[A] zippy new satire... No one captures the mind of a control freak like Stanley Crawford."
"Petroleum Man is one of the best kinds of satires: the document of a man incessantly belying himself."
"Petroleum Man cuts close to the bone in our consumption-driven times: all readers will find something to take offense at in this well-constructed novel. It is a pleasure to discover that Crawford writes as well from the caves of his own creation as he does when synthesizing the workings of the land in his essays. The book is a hoot, and an elegantly crafted, literate one at that."
"It is delicious and refreshing to see in print what no PC-savvy conservative or liberal would ever admit to contemplating, much less publicly uttering, at any given time. Crawford's reduction of both liberal and conservative agendas shines a glaring spotlight on the violence we do to each other whenever we pin another's wings on the dead cloth of dogmatism."
"The River in Winter presents Crawford's musings and observations in a series of concise essays.... Topics range from the poetic to the political but, with the easy grace of a skilled writer, Crawford makes the hard work of writing look effortless. He manages to take the most complex topics--water rights, for example, or the growth of global agriculture--and present them understandably and with relevance to the reader. Subjects that could seem trivial at first glance, such as ornamental gourds, geese, or old apple crates, take on a patina of poetry in Crawford's skillful hands. His loving attention to detail comes from careful observation."
"For Stanley Crawford, the love of garlic comes from both scientific study and three decades of labor in the field to produce the exquisite bulbs, knowing full well that 'if you grow good garlic people will love you for it.' Crawford deserves similar affection for A Garlic Testament, a lyrical memoir of his work as a farmer in northern New Mexico, one that combines autobiography, gardening hints, and a quiet philosophy of life."
"[Stanley] Crawford's memoir of working and living with his wife on their small farm in northern New Mexico is a pleasant mixture of farming, nature watching, and philosophy. Through the growing season that begins with fall planting, the Crawfords tend, harvest, and then sell their garlic and other produce the following summer at the Santa Fe farmers' market."
""Rich with respect for human toil... detailing the healing and annealing aspect of the repetitive tasks that bring his crop to market in clear-sighted, eloquent prose."
"Superb, quiet...a plainspoken wisdom."
Irrigation ditches are the lifeline of agriculture and daily life in rural New Mexico. This award-winning account of the author's experience as a mayordomo, or ditch boss, is the first record of the life of an acequiaby a community participant.
"Mayordomo is thoroughly absorbing. Not only does it make its humble subject fascinating, but it also has a larger vision-of the rhythms of earth, water and weather, of the clash of two vastly different cultures and of a remarkable but vanishing way of life, one of the oldest in the West."
"As a former New Mexican and descendant of a long line of Appalachian hillbilly-peasants, I found [Mayordomo] to be a direct and vivid evocation of the kind of life I was born into: wresting something to eat from dirt, rock, brush, wind, water."
"A beautiful work . . . full of humanity and kindness and understanding. One hundred years from now it will be a treasured classic in the libraries of all who collect Western Americana."
"Walking the irrigation ditch with writer Stanley Crawford is a great pleasure. This is an evocative and absorbing account of an old and persistent way of life. He writes beautifully."
"A wonderful and carefully written book-full of wise and sensitive observations about a particular world."
From "Putting Things Away" to "The Marriage Almanac" (not to mention the pedantic "Index," in itself a comic wonder), Stanley Crawford gives the married, the unmarried, and the formerly married a classic satire on all the sanctimonious marriage manuals ever produced. Starting with the complete title, Some Instructions to My Wife Concerning the Upkeep of the House and Marriage, and to My Son and Daughter Concerning the Conduct of Their Childhood, a boorish narrator sets down some seventy-three pieces of advice to his wife, young son, and two-year-old daughter, intended to foster and maintain domestic tranquility in an age of anxiety. Taken literally, our neo-Victorian head of the house is a male chauvinist pig of sorts, but what reader would deny that the sources of Crawford's satire run deep in the American grain?
Some Instructions is the madly precise fantasy of a husband and father who has stepped through the marital looking glass just to see, from the other side, the perfectly kept house and the well- functioning marriage and family.
"Stanley Crawford's satire on Victorian marriage manuals cheerfully lampoons male domination fantasies... Crawford negotiates the literary tightrope he has strung up faultlessly, providing a piercing and comical dissection of the modern institution of marriage."
“Forty years ago I first linked up with Unguentine and we made love on twin-hulled catamarans, sails a-billow, bless the seas . . .”
So begins the courtship of a certain Unguentine to the woman we know only as “Mrs. Unguentine,” the chronicler of their sad, fantastical tale. For forty years, they sail the seas together, alone on a giant land-covered barge of their own devising. They tend their gardens, raise a child, invent an artificial forest—all the while steering clear of civilization.
Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine is a masterpiece of modern domestic life, a comic novel of closeness and difficulty, miscommunication and stubborn resolve. Rarely has a book so perfectly registered the secret solitude of marriage, how shared loneliness can result in a powerful bond.
"Reading Stanley Crawford’s Travel Notes is like being in a tailspin. A safe one, perhaps, but a tailspin nonetheless. Everything is not as it should be; you feel disoriented. You go up in the air, then plummet; then you are safe on the ground. But you don’t stay grounded. Before you know it, you’re up in the air again, and have no idea how high you are or how much higher you might go."
Originally published in 1967, TRAVEL NOTES is a hallucinogenic dream journey thru the incomparable mind that subsequently brought us Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine, then dropped off the grid to become a garlic farmer in New Mexico. TRAVEL NOTES could indeed read like Stanley Crawford’s private travelogue, yet no real-world places or people are explicitly mentioned. Instead we’re taken on a rompish tromp thru wild and often absurd landscapes—in a bus that gets dismantled & reassembled to get around a broken-down car, in a biplane that only flies in the mind of the naked pilot, or on the back of a white elephant named Unable with untranslatable obscenities tattooed to his underbelly—the traveller ever self-aware of the nagging fragility of routine customs, ever on the verge of having the magic carpet pulled out from beneath your feet if you stop to think. This mind-jarring comedy of errors shares campy common ground with Brautigan in its carefree wackiness, with Robbe-Grillet in its disciplined lunacy and obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, with Márquez in its magical realism (though Crawford, in exile on Crete, was at the time unaware of One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in the same year) and with a healthy dose of subversive angst thrown in for good measure. By the end, TRAVEL NOTES becomes a boot-strapping map to your own brain, projecting psychotherapeutic color on the otherwise gray matter of real-world events.
"Architectural dreamwork, end-time seascapes so barren they seem cut out from the pages of the Bible, coolly rendered Rube Goldberg apparati, and the crushing sadness that results when you tie your emotional fortunes to a man whose tongue is so fat in his mouth he can barely speak... [A] little masterpiece of a novel."
Back in print after more than a decade, Stanley Crawford's dynamically charged, hysterically black-comic first novel has been described as "a script for a movie starring Groucho Marx, as written by the inmates of Charenton under the direction of WC. Fields …wildly funny" (Washington Star). Meet Gascoyne, a new breed of hero, a man who spends whole weeks in his car, eats there, sleeps there, and conducts his business–wielding power, pinching pennies, and fostering corruption by mobile phone as he somehow manages to drive through bumper-to-bumper traffic at fifty miles an hour. But he's found a new preoccupation, hunting down the killer–last seen slithering away from the crime scene in a tree-sloth costume–of his business associate and finding out how the southern California megalopolis has suddenly slipped out of his grasp.
A tour de force blending of genres–Alfred Hitchcock, jungle-war novels, science fiction, mad doctor movies, Westerns, James Bond, 18th-century mock epics, Greek tragedy and hardboiled detective stories–first published in 1966, Gascoyne is a hilarious look into a future that looks remarkably like the present.
"A mad fantasia of the Freeway Age which happens in a kind of Southern-California-cubed and begins (at least) as a mystery...Wonderful (I admire a man who can conceive a murder suspect who goes around disguised as a giant tree sloth)."
"Gascoyne is classic slapstick. Wild."