Michael Giltz
November 17, 1995 AT 05:00 AM EST

A ferocious writer, Harry Crews pummels his characters into submission, mercilessly putting them through their paces and chuckling all the while. In The Mulching of America he tackles Hickum Looney, a door-to-door salesman at Soaps for Life. The company’s head is a megalomaniacal, harelipped little terror who keeps his employees in thrall and in chains — until the arrival of Gaye Nell Odell, a tough-talking and genuinely tough former hooker who comes to his rescue. Crews always elicits a few gasps with his black, two-fisted sense of humor. But the targets here — the sales manual as Bible, the company as heartless — are puny, and the novel ends with a thud. Crews is swatting at flies when he should be gunning for bear. C+

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