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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
James Hannaham is the author of the novel God Says No, which was honored by the American Library Association. He 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.
New York: Little, Brown and Company
371 pages, $26.00
May 5, 2015
“Forgiveness never ends, he thought to himself. Either it’s a bottomless cup or it’s nothing.”
James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods grabs you in the first paragraph and the curve balls keep your attention. Darlene, Eddie’s mother, is devastated by the murder of her husband. This educated middle-class woman, brought low by what she considers her guilt in his death, finds oblivion in crack cocaine. One night as Darlene is walking the streets of Houston, a minibus pulls up and she’s offered a job making good money and a nice place to stay with a company called Delicious Foods. The company harvests broken people and Darlene disappears. Eddie, eleven years old, sets out to find her and bring her home.
The story, moving from the present to the past and back again, is told from the shifting perspectives of the child Eddie and the crack, in first-person narration. That’s right. The crack, which lives inside Darlene’s head, is a character in Delicious Foods, and why not? It’s Darlene’s main motivation. Known in street slang as “Scotty,” the crack is funny and philosophical, with an impatient affection for Darlene, and refers to them as “we,” a single entity. But make no mistake, Scotty is in charge.
Hannaham deftly employs a sardonic, weary humor. “Everybody black knows how to react to a tragedy. Just bring out a wheelbarrow full of the Same Old Anger, dump it all over the Usual Frustration, and water it with Somebody Oughtas…Then quietly set some globs of Genuine Awe in a circle around the mixture, but don’t call too much attention to that. Mention the Holy Spirit whenever possible.”
Scotty is opinionated and possesses another sort of humor, equally distinctive, in his commentaries. “Texas was stupid. I’m sorry. Fat sunburned gluttons and tacky mansions everyplace, glitzy cars that be the size of a pachyderm, a thrift store and a pawnshop for every five motherfuckers… Whole state and everything up in that bitch made of limestone…Granite salesmen getting jealous. In summer, Texas too hot for 99 percent of life-forms…”
As good as Hannaham is at humor, he is equally adept at conveying little Eddie’s anguish, abandonment, and confusion. “It occurred to him that he was doing her job, but he didn’t notice the cloud of resentment forming in his love for her, his hostility growing darker. I’m the son, he whispered to himself. The son can’t take care of the mother.” One night as he is trying to describe Darlene to a woman on the street: “If he didn’t find her that night, he would need a picture. He struggled to create an image of his mother with his undeveloped tools, and watched his failure reflected in the woman’s blank expression. He could not handle this alone. . . .”
Delicious Foods, a powerful story of the exploitation of throwaway people and the will to survive, is simultaneously poignant and irreverent and a startlingly original accomplishment.
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