By James Hannaham
367 pp. Back Bay Books. $16.
Why are independent bookshops such an integral part of a thriving community? Because a good independent bookshop promotes books like these.
I was traveling in Oregon last October when I stumbled into the little western flavored town of Jacksonville, not far from the California border. It was a small town, but infinitely charming, with only one main street, California Street, which could have stood in as a location in any number of old Clint Eastwood or John Wayne westerns.
At 157 California Street sits Rebel Heart Books. It’s small, just a single room, so it doesn’t contain as many books as may be found in your average bookshop. The difference is that each book it does contain belongs there, has been specially chosen to take up one of the valued spots on the shelf or the table.
I came away with several books that day, and I still haven’t gotten around to reading them all. But one of the reasons why Rebel Heart Books is my absolute favorite bookshop anywhere is because of how knowledgable the woman at the counter was about all the books. As she was ringing me up, the lady (whose name I have so unfortunately forgotten) made comments on each of them, talking about how excited they (the shop) were to feature this book or that author. She clearly knew something about every book there, had very probably had a hand in selecting them all herself.
That’s something that you just don’t get at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or even a larger bookshop. Sure, many of them have their “Staff Picks” but in Rebel Heart Books, EVERY book was a staff pick. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been there.
All of which is my very long way of saying that I have that wonderful little bookshop on California Street in Jacksonville, Oregon, to thank for “Delicious Foods”, a book that was was everything I hoped it would be and more.
Now onto the actual book.
Thanks largely to Jordan Peele, the political horror story has lately seen a revival. See Peele’s “Get Out” for a great example of political horror done right, any of “The Purge” movies for an example of it done poorly.
But oh does James Hannaham’s “Delicious Foods” do it right.
It does for literary horror what “Get Out” did for cinematic horror. It’s a wonder, honestly, that it hasn’t been adapted for the big screen yet.
Like “Get Out”, “Delicious Foods” is a horror story with comedic elements. Definitely not a comedy with horror elements. It won’t just stay with you long after you’ve put it down, it will haunt you.
There is so much going on here, so much to get into, but at the same time I don’t really want to get into any of it because it is best to go into this blind.
I’ll simply say that our story starts with a getaway. Our protagonist, Eddie, is driving as fast as he can away from “The Farm,” the place he’s just escaped from. His arms end in two bloody stumps because, for reasons we don’t yet understand, both his hands have recently been severed. He steers by sticking his forearms “in two of the wheel’s holes.”
He has no idea where he’s going, he just knows he has to get away.
From the very first page, I was deeply engaged in the story. That doesn’t often happen. It will usually take me several pages, sometimes chapters, to really slip into the mood the author is setting. Not here.
Hannaham is such a talented writer, it’s a wonder he’s not better known. Here he writes convincingly as Eddie (both as a child and as a young man), as Eddie’s mother, and as the drug said mother is hooked on. Yes, one of the three points of view in this story is told from the perspective of CRACK COCAINE. How crazy is that? It’s trippily Pynchon-esque, positively Lynchian, but it’s so much more than just a gimmick.
“Delicious Foods” is the kind of book that demands to be discussed. I can’t remember the last time I read a book and so wished that I was part of a book club that was reading it. The themes here are nowhere near modest:
The legacy of slavery, white supremacy, racial injustice, human trafficking, drug abuse, industrialism, unfettered capitalism, exploitation.
This book tackles all of these issues in 367 pages and tackles them beautifully. In lesser hands, “Delicious Foods” would have been a mess, the perfect example of a novel that tries to overachieve. But “Delicious Foods” DOES achieve, exactly what it sets out to.
This is what great literature is. It shocks you and makes you think about the world you live in and all the wrongs that still need to be righted.
Thanks to Rebel Heart Books and great independent bookshops everywhere for promoting books like these.