There are books with a lowercase “b,” and books with an uppercase “B,” and then there are books so monumental—so unprecedented—they make everything else look like a child’s stapled storybook of scribbles. (No offense, kids.) James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods is one of those rare triumphs that has you calling up friends and saying not just, “I have to tell you what I just read,” but, “I HAVE TO TELL YOU WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO ME.”
Delicious Foods is the story of Darlene, a drug-addled single mother who has taken to the streets of Houston after the horrific murder of her civil-rights promoting husband. One ill-fated night, she finds herself lured into a van to sign a contract for a job that promises a brand-new life but ultimately ends up being nothing short of modern-day slavery—a job where recruited addicts pick produce in the scorching heat, only to be paid in crack cocaine and old bologna sandwiches. Delicious Foods is also the story of Eddie, Darlene’s abandoned son, whose shattered childhood is defined by his heartbreaking but steely quest to find his mother at any cost—even the loss of his hands.
Delicious Foods is transformative, so prepare to put down this book as a changed being. It’s a gut-wrenching, beautifully rendered horror story told not just by Eddie and Darlene, but also by Scotty—the drug that fuels the plot and people of this book. Yes. That’s right. Crack has a voice in this masterpiece, and it’s a voice so electric and possessing and well-wrought you’ll find yourself hooked. Here are five (out of probably five hundred) reasons Delicious Foods is an absolute must-read. Or, rather, must-experience.
Hannaham has a gift for detail, whether he’s describing a heavenly sunset, an unshakable grief, or the charred remains of Darlene’s husband. Never before have I read certain passages in a book the same way I approach certain scenes in movies—with eyes barely open and bated breath. But the gruesome, glorious details of a man reduced to a burned slab of driftwood-looking ribs who is still wearing his wedding ring, or that of a child’s hands being amputated for the sake of escape will reduce you to an awestruck, terrified, page-turning wreck.
Crack, and addiction to it, is central to this opus. And if you’ve never quite understood addiction or sympathized with an addict or wondered what all the fuss is about, Delicious Foods’ Scotty will work his magic on you. Scotty’s lyrical, street-slang narration is laden with side-splitting humor, cold facts, and omniscient wisdom. He knows everything, because he owns everyone. He’s adored, he’s in charge, he rules all. His is easily the most memorable voice in fiction I have ever come across. You won’t be able to shake him.
Where did that apple you’re eating come from? Who planted and picked it? Do you even care to know? Delicious Foods is not just the title, it’s the name of a corrupt corporate farm where humans sleep on urine-soaked bunk beds and eat watery soup and are forced to punish one another with the flat end of shovels. It’s a place that enslaves those who are already enslaved to addiction. And it keeps them right where it wants them by promising drugs. Never before have farming and farm workers been portrayed so brutally. James Hannaham’s book is The Grapes of Wrath on crack. Literally.
Delicious Foods is fiction, but is it really? In this instance, is the truth that’s stranger than fiction actually the fiction? There’s much in this book that you want, desperately, to be far-fetched—the abhorrent labor, the child abuse, the bottomless racism, the lengths to which addicts will go, the apathy of the police force, the depths of denial and desperation—but the more you read, the more you know that things just got really real. In a novel.
No spoilers here, except that Delicious Foods ends in a way that won’t disappoint. Epic things should end in epic ways. There should be some resolution, some redemption, some REASON for all the madness. And Hannaham gives his readers that. The bigger question I’m left with is what will readers give back to him? I’m no fortune teller, but I see big things for this book. The story may be over, but I suspect it will go on as a classic. Its prose is Pulitzer-worthy. It’s plot, Oscar-style. But that’s just my take. What do I know? I’m addicted to this book. Completely hooked. I cannot let it go.
Delicious Foods is available for pre-order now, and out March 17.