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Kirkus Reviews: Delicious Foods

 

A Southern farm provides the backdrop for a modern-day slavery tale in this textured, inventive and provocatively funny novel.

 

The second novel by Hannaham (Creative Writing/Pratt Institute; God Says No, 2009) opens with a harrowing prologue: Eddie, a black 17-year-old, is manically driving a truck from a Louisiana plantation that he’s escaped. His hands have been cut off for reasons not explained till the end of the novel, and he’s desperate to get to Minnesota. The story then snaps back to six years earlier, as Eddie’s mother, Darlene, descends into crack addiction after the murder of her husband, a shop owner and community organizer who fell afoul of local bigots. While working as a prostitute, she and other addicts and indigents are corralled by a woman into a van and coerced to sign a contract that effectively makes them the property of Delicious Foods, a produce farm that plies its workers with drugs and alcohol to extract cheap, unquestioning labor. What’s so funny about any of that? Partly Hannaham’s daring approach to style and point of view: Much of the novel is narrated by the crack Darlene is addicted to. Nicknamed Scotty, the drug first shows up as a few rocks in her purse as she works the streets and throughout has a voice like the devil on your shoulder. (“I rushed into the few doubting and unbelieving parts left in Darlene’s mind and I shouted, Babygirl, surrender to yes! Say yes to good feelings!”) The plot turns on Darlene’s struggles at Delicious Foods and Eddie’s efforts to find her, and in the process, Hannaham finds room to comment on and satirize a variety of racial (and racist) iconographies, from watermelons to David Duke to voodoo to the sexual demands of plantation owners. In that context, the fate of Eddie’s hands becomes a potent allegory for centuries of black men and women stripped of the power to control their destinies.

 

A poised and nervy study of race in a unique voice.

James Hannaham: Delicious Foods

Tuesday January 19, 2016
07:00 pm

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                                                       Photo credit: Ian Douglas

 

“James Hannaham’s new novel is a tour de force. Gripping, haunting, and deeply moving, it beguiles the reader with the urgent immediacy of its characters’ lives, while also reverberating with universal themes of freedom and enslavement, love and survival.”

Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize winner for A Visit from the Goon Squad

 

A satirical look at race, James Hannaham's Delicious Foods never loses its sincere and hopeful center. To quote our Head Librarian, Jon Michaud, "James Hannaham's Delicious Foods was one of my indelible reading experiences of 2015—harrowing, profane, hilarious, and urgently relevant. As the book comes out in paperback, it is sure to engage a new legion of readers."

 

About Delicious Foods

We first meet Eddie, a scared teenager, driving wildly through the night, his only goal to get as far away as possible. His forearms rest on the steering wheel; his hands are gone, the stumps tied clumsily with soiled towels.

 

As he flees in the stolen car, his thoughts drift back to the farm, his mother, and the life he’s leaving behind. So begins a story of freedom, love, and redemption playing out in an America few of us even realize exists.

 

Eddie’s mother, Darlene, has had a difficult life. At first, her future seemed bright—with a beloved husband, a new baby, and a general store to call their own. But when her husband is brutally murdered and the local police fail to take action against the vicious hate crime, Darlene unravels. Mired in grief and the increasing threat of poverty, overwhelmed by motherhood, Darlene turns to drugs to ease her pain. Eddie struggles to maintain an image of normalcy, which becomes impossible when his mother suddenly vanishes.

 

Out on the street, selling herself to support her habit, Darlene is lured into a stranger’s van by the promise of a steady job on an idyllic farm. But Delicious Foods turns out to be more prison than paradise, its workers forced into modern slavery, doing back-breaking labor for little pay, and all their wages going to fund their room and board and to fill the crack pipes with which they’re sedated. Darlene is desperate to escape and reunite with Eddie, but her debt becomes more insurmountable each day and her old life recedes into memory.


Told in three voices—those of Darlene, Eddie, and the irreverent and mischievous “Scotty,” the literal personification of crack—this haunting story dips back and forth in time, illustrating the vicious cycles of poverty, racism, addiction, and violence. A blistering social commentary on the crack cocaine epidemic and the shockingly dark side of American agricultural labor weaves throughout this inventive novel.



 

James Hannaham is the author of the novel God Says No, which was honored by the American Library AssociationHe holds an MFA from the Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and lives in Brooklyn, where he teaches creative writing at the Pratt Institute.