“A story about a boy and his relationship with his mother in the American South…” she said. “Oh, and part of it is narrated by Crack.”
I faltered. “Crack like… Crack?”
“Crack like Crack Cocaine. Yes.”
This was how this book was initially presented to me by our surprisingly nonplussed bookstore owner, Erika. Why I decided it was a match for me as a reader, I’ll never know.
It’s not that I don’t read books outside my genre (I’m coming for you, Toni Morrison!). It’s just that every book I find interesting tends towards pretty…. let’s call them “similar themes.” Women. Complex feelings about home. A contemporary setting. Throw in a dash of solitude and you’ve got what I’d probably call a “must-read.”
Still, variety is the spice of life, and in an effort to prove my reading chops, I jumped at the chance to read James Hannaham’s second novel, Delicious Foods. Maybe it was the Kara Walker-esque cover with a silhouetted boy pining for a diving bird. Maybe it was the emotional territory of a mother trying to raise her son while making a series of terrible life choices.
But maybe, ultimately, it was the Crack.
I mean, how many times can you say you’ve read a book with Crack as the narrator?
Well, I’m up to one.
And what’s better is that Crack, as it turns out, is a pretty amazing narrator. With a steely eye for human weakness, a witty tongue, and a friendliness towards the friendless, the authorial decision was a brilliant one. Crack directs it’s (His? Her?) decisive eye on Darlene, a young mother living in Houston whose life has brought her to the brink of self-destruction.
Of course, all this praise is ultimately due to the wizard behind the curtain, James Hannaham. His writing style is direct, forceful, and his flights of fancy feel hot and important, pulsing with the real blood of his characters and beating with the force of a Texas sun.
The story reads like the best kind of science fiction, where real events transpire within an unreal landscape. Neon signs reflected on burning asphalt, missing persons, and a core of evildoing set the stage for this novel. But what dawns on the reader is that nothing about this is actually science fiction. It’s not horror. It’s not fantasy. No. Instead, everything that takes place in this novel is dangerously close to the surface of contemporary American History, a fact that Hannaham has stressed in discussing the novel.
Like American History, this is a hard read. There is injustice and violence and exploitation. But it’s an important story that deserves to be told, if only because Hannaham is the one telling it.
So would I push this into the hands of someone about to go on a beach vacay? Absolutely not. But if you’re drawn to gorgeous novels about the ugliest parts of life, I promise you won’t find a better match than this. If nothing else, you won’t read anything like this for quite some time.