So, you might have to bear with me for awhile as I find my voice when reviewing books. I want my reviews to be helpful for other librarians when providing suggestions to their patrons. However, I also want the review to indicate my feelings on the book, too. It will take time to reach a happy medium. I also haven’t done much writing recently, so everything might be a little clunky while I search for the right words to describe my thoughts (and the books).
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
- Published: March 2015
- Pages: 384
Summary from Goodreads: “Darlene, a young widow and mother devastated by the death of her husband, turns to drugs to erase the trauma. In this fog of grief, she is lured with the promise of a great job to a mysterious farm run by a shady company, with disastrous consequences for both her and her eleven-year-old son, Eddie–left behind in a panic-stricken search for her.
Delicious Foods tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug that threatens to destroy them. In Darlene’s haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, and in the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose not only infuses their desperate circumstances with grace and humor, but also wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom.”
Winner of the Pen Faulkner award in 2015, Delicious Foods by James Hannaham is a dark, gritty book that is not ideal for a gentle reader. The book opens with young Eddie escaping to Minnesota with recently amputated hands in a car the reader soon learns is not his. Some readers might give up on the book at this point. But if one forges ahead past the prologue, one will experience a beautiful and compelling story.
Toward the beginning of the book, the timeline shifts between times in Darlene’s past in college and early adulthood to times during Eddie’s childhood. Most of the story comes when Eddie is 11 years old and Darlene disappears. Readers will empathize with Eddie as he relentlessly searches for his mother, relying on school food and a concerned local baker to avoid starvation. Darlene, whose experience with racism and grief drove her to drugs and prostitution, makes choices that has even “Scotty,” her drug of choice and narrator of her story, questioning her actions at times. The relationship of these two characters is continually tested over the course of the book, but they don’t give up. Although at times belated, they do everything they can to remain a family.
Life on the farm is not easy for anyone and Hannaham’s depictions of modern-day slavery will leave readers wondering if there are still places that operate like the “Delicious Foods” corporation. The struggles of the characters in this book are brought to life with lyrical prose that elicits vivid images of the characters and their environment. Some scenes in the book are quite violent, where people are being beaten for insubordination or disobedience or just because the foreman wants to beat someone. Sometimes the character doing the beating seems to enjoy it perhaps a bit too much.
While there are definitely dark aspects to this book, there are points that are rather amusing, as well. Charley the rat, whose fur is missing in places from too much scratching, comes to mind. As does the couple of times when Scotty realizes that if he thinks something is a bad idea, it can’t be good.
The ending of the story bring hope for the characters. It feels like a happy ending despite everything they have been through and the changes to their lives. Things aren’t perfect, but they are looking up.
Rating: 3 stars
[A note about my ratings: I take the Goodreads suggestions for each of their stars at their word. I liked this book, so it gets 3 stars. I also rarely give 5-star ratings because I very infrequently love a book so very much that I would consider it “amazing.” Plus, I typically only consider books 5 stars if I am willing to reread it. If I don’t like a book, I probably won’t finish it, so there won’t be too many 1-star ratings, either. Unless it was for book club. Sometimes that will happen.]