Monday, November 9, 2015
Review: "Delicious Foods" by James Hannah
Delicious Foods, the second novel by writer James Hannaham, is an astonishing achievement of the imagination, and for sure the most unique book I have come across this year. I try not to let arbitrary qualities like race or gender guide my reading ways, but this year had a trio of novels written by black men that were all very original and got me excited. The first one I read was Paul Beatty’s fourth novel, The Sellout, a funny, raucous book that is both tragic and hilarious, and well worth checking out. The second book was Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson. It’s a little too clean and places its feet sloppily on to sides of a wide spectrum, but was far from a bad book. The third one, this one, is easily the best, channeling such writers as Daniel Woodrell, whose blurb on the back of the hardcover persuaded me to buy it, and oddly enough, Joe R. Lansdale, whose home town of Nagadoches, Texas is named dropped at one point. But really, Hannaham is very much himself within these pages, using the framework of a Southern gothic novel to drop the reader into an unrelenting nightmare of loss, drug addiction, slavery and the will and courage to move on from your mistakes and not let them define you. To add to these heavy themes is a dark as night sense of humor, elegant yet dirty prose, and a narrative device that sounds cheap and gimmicky when reading about it, but works to elevate this book to great heights. The book opens with a brutal prologue that flashes forward past the events of the book, which shows Eddie, after escaping the Delicious Foods farm, minus both of his hands, trying to live his life as a handyman without hands. We then meet his mother Darlene, a drug addict reeling from the brutal murder of her husband, as well as a younger Eddie, trying his best to understand this world he has found himself in. Darlene, under the lie that she was getting a job, is kidnapped by woman named Jackie, and sent to work on a fruit farm filled with addict like herself and are paid in small wages, most of which is spent on drugs. Eddie, still young, is determined to find her, and from there the book becomes more nightmarish as things escalate. A lot of the details I won’t spoil, but I was enthralled most of the way through by Hannaham’s profane yet intimate prose and characters who are honestly depicted, even if they aren’t honest with themselves. The narrative device I mentioned concerns Hannaham giving a voice to the drug Darlene is addicted to. Instead of coming off as goofy, the drug is both a devil on her shoulder steering her in the wrong direction, a God and, most sadly, her only real friend. From its brutal scenes, the high point being the amputation, to the terrifying implications of these sad souls and the obstacles they overcome to find redemption, this book is a true underrated treat of 2015, and I really hope more people come around to it.