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Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
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Delicious Foods (2015)

by James Hannaham

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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
3.5 I struggled with this rating. The book takes a brutal look at the cascading events that can lead to addiction to crack cocaine and the devastating effect addiction has on children and families. The fact that modern-day slavery exists on farms (the Delicious Foods of the title) is sobering and makes you think about where your food comes from. It's a worthwhile book that led to a great book club discussion.

But I'm not a book critic. I'm just a reader who rates books according to how much I enjoyed the experience. This was a struggle for me to get through, yet I'm glad I read it. How's that for feeling conflicted? I thought the author's device of using crack cocaine, "Scotty", to narrate chapters was clever and effective.

These are all weighty important issues. This, along with a documentary I watched, The House I Live In, has led me to re-examine my opinions on poverty, addictions, and the so-called war on drugs. Any book that makes me think and change some pre-conceived ideas and prejudices gets a bump in my rating. ( )
  janb37 | Feb 13, 2017 |
A very difficult book due to the dreadful savagery portrayed but very well written and almost hopeful in the end. ( )
  snash | Jul 20, 2016 |
This novel came to my attention when it won the 2016 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

The book begins with Eddie Hardison, a 17-year-old black with no hands, driving a stolen vehicle from Louisiana to Minnesota. Only towards the end do we learn how his hands came to be amputated. The story flashes back to six years earlier where we meet Darlene, Eddie’s mother, who is a drug addict lured into working on a produce farm for a company called Delicious Foods. She and the other workers are basically slave labourers kept subdued by crack cocaine and/or alcohol. Eddie sets out to find his mother.

The novel is narrated from the points of view of Eddie and Darlene. But since Darlene is addicted to cocaine, her portions are narrated by Scotty, a personification of the drug that has control of her. His original voice explains how he came to be Darlene’s friend and why she has difficulty leaving him: “I am a badass drug with a reputation for keeping the loyalty of my friends and lovers in a very tight grip.”

The pacing of the novel is a bit of a problem. Day-to-day life at the farm is detailed. Then the ending moves very quickly when more detail would have been appropriate. Because much is left out, the reader may have difficulty accepting the ending as credible. The statement “It ain’t too often that the mother look at the child and get schooled” begins the change leading to the ending, but it is not accurate: parents constantly learn things from their children.

It is the characterization of Darlene that is noteworthy. The author succeeds in making a drug addict a sympathetic human being. There are times she is so naïve and makes such poor choices, but the reader comes to understand her motivations and the depth of her despair. The recurring image of a corpse as a piece of driftwood explains so much about her behaviour: “that piece of driftwood” becomes “that damn piece of driftwood” and then “that goddamn piece of driftwood.”

The book touches on a number of serious issues; racial injustice is certainly a focus. As an eleven-year-old, Eddie “understood for the first time that his classmates didn’t count for any more than he did. It didn’t matter if they never acknowledged the shadow of worthlessness above them, poised to crush them like Godzilla’s foot.” When a black man is killed in his store, Darlene observes, “Nobody white in the town admitted to seeing anything untoward. Nobody white would take the word of anybody black. It seemed sometimes as if an imaginary store had burned down and an imaginary black man had lost his imaginary life inside it.” Darlene blames herself for that black man’s death rather than the whites responsible for killing him because “They was just white boys doing what come natural in the place they from – down south, white boys be hunting Negroes like lions be hunting gazelles out in the goddamn Serengeti.” Certainly, Eddie’s lack of hands symbolizes the situation of the blacks who have virtually no control over their fates.

The exploitation of field workers in large-scale farming operations is also examined. Darlene and her fellow workers on the farm find themselves in the same trap of indentured servitude as blacks did under Jim Crow laws. One of the workers “often thought about the people who were going to eat the strawberries and lemons and watermelons he picked for Delicious, about what those folks would look like, how they might peel the fruit, how the fruit would taste, maybe about the fruit salad they would make, or the pie.” Darlene sometimes “took off one her gloves and put her fingers up on the sticky watermelon skins. She deliberately leaving fingerprints, hoping somebody gonna dust that damn melon for evidence and let her son know where she at. Way far away, folks from America and Canada . . .”
The book is definitely a worthwhile read despite its uneven pacing and some unrealistic events (like Eddie’s ability to fix computers though he knows nothing about them). After reading the book, the reader, like one of the characters, may “think about the people whose hands had touched those apples and that cantaloupe before I ate.”

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Jul 14, 2016 |
This is a rough book. We start out with a young man named Eddie speeding away in a truck in Louisiana. Both of his hands have recently been cut off, but we don't know how. We know something really fucked up has happened and we also know that he left his mother behind. The first chapter sees him to the relative safety of his aunt's house in St. Cloud, and starting the reader out with his horrible but successful escape helps make the rough times we flash back into a little more tolerable. I don't want to give too much away because this is really a powerful book, and I think everyone should check it out. Most of the book is set in east Texas or west Louisiana, and the descriptions of the land and the people are spot on. There is an amazing (like I still can't stop thinking about it) scene involving Darlene and a grackle that I don't think someone who hasn't been around grackles a lot could ever fully understand. Best of all, Hannaham nails the ending with an event that brings characters together and ties up loose ends, but not too neatly or in a pandering way. This is a well-constructed, damn fine, moving, funny, horrible, wonderful book.

[full review here: http://spacebeer.blogspot.com/2016/07/delicious-foods-by-james-hannaham-2015.htm... ] ( )
  kristykay22 | Jul 8, 2016 |
I started out reading the book expecting something else entirely. Originally I was attracted to the illustration on the cover by Kara Walker (love her work) and the book was listed on the 2016 Tournament must read list. I read the opening prologue and I was hooked. Hannaham brings to the forefront the practice of debt slavery, racism, sexual brutality, death, and drug addiction.
I rated it 3. Half-way through the book I felt the storyline wandered off a narrative here and there. My curiosity for the fate of Eddie and his relationship with Darlene kept me in the game. ( )
  WanderRoxyBooks | Jun 1, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Such moments of deft lyricism are Hannaham’s greatest strength, and those touches of beauty and intuitive metaphor make the novel’s difficult subject matter much easier to bear. “Delicious Foods,” however, is more often messy and scattershot when it comes to more basic issues of pacing, structure and, sometimes, simple narrative detail.
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, Ted Genoways (Apr 3, 2015)
 
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Epigraph
The worm don't see nothing
pretty in the robin's song
—Black proverb
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For Kara and Clarinda
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After escaping from the farm, Eddie drove through the night.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316284947, Hardcover)

An inventive feat of storytelling bravado that captures the pathos and absurdity of addiction as it comes between a mother and her son.

Darlene, once a loving mother to her young son, Eddie, is devastated by her husband's death. In a fog of grief, she turns to drugs, quickly forming an addiction. One day she disappears without a trace.

Unbeknownst to Eddie, Darlene has been lured away with false promises of a good job. A shady company named Delicious Foods shuttles her to a remote farm, where she is held captive and forced to perform hard labor.

Delicious Foods tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug whose irreverent and mischievous voice narrates Darlene's travails. This compassionate story about the unbreakable bond between mother and son wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom, forgiveness and redemption, tenacity and the will to survive.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:14 -0400)

"Darlene, once an exemplary wife and a loving mother to her young son, Eddie, finds herself devastated by the unforeseen death of her husband. Unable to cope with her grief, she turns to drugs, and quickly forms an addiction. One day she disappears without a trace. Unbeknownst to eleven-year-old Eddie, now left behind in a panic-stricken search for her, Darlene has been lured away with false promises of a good job and a rosy life. A shady company named Delicious Foods shuttles her to a remote farm, where she is held captive, performing hard labor in the fields to pay off the supposed debt for her food, lodging, and the constant stream of drugs the farm provides to her and the other unfortunates imprisoned there. In Delicious Foods, James Hannaham tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug that threatens to destroy them. Through Darlene's haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, through the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, and through the irreverent and mischievous voice of the drug that narrates Darlene's travails, Hannaham's daring and shape-shifting prose infuses this harrowing experience with grace and humor. The desperate circumstances that test the unshakeable bond between this mother and son unfold into myth, and Hannaham's treatment of their ordeal spills over with compassion. Along the way we experience a tale at once contemporary and historical that wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom, forgiveness and redemption, tenacity and the will to survive" --… (more)

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