Delicious Foods by James Hannaham (2015) is the next selection for my long-running DAFFODILS book club. In my brain I keep wanting to call this one Dangerous Foods instead because, to be honest, the action here is much more dangerous than it is delicious.
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.
Eddie's mom, Darlene, is a crack addict. She wasn't always -- before she was a college student, a wife, a store owner, and a mother. Then her husband, Nat, was violently killed after becoming a leading black activist in a small town in Louisiana. Darlene and little Eddie are left alone and Darlene turns to crack to comfort herself. They move to Houston and Darlene moves closer and closer to the edge, becoming the perfect target for a mini-van full of addicts who offer her an amazing job working on a farm with luxury accommodations and all the drugs she wants to take. Even though Eddie is at home in the apartment alone, she hops in. And then things get bad.
I don't want to give too much away because this is really a powerful book, and I think everyone should check it out. Hannaham has an amazing control over his characters' voices -- Eddie, Darlene (pre and post-addiction) and, interestingly, crack cocaine itself, are all distinct and moving narrators of the story. 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.