Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman follows a few months in…
It took me months to finish James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods, which is more a statement of fact than a comment on the book.
The novel opens with a scene that you will read breathless and unblinking. Teenage Eddie is driving from someplace in Louisiana or Texas to St. Cloud, Minnesota in a stolen car, navigating with bloody stumps where his hands used to be. Yowza.
And this isn’t even the most harrowing thing to happen in a book where crack cocaine is a main character, Scotty, with a point of view that takes over large sections of the story.
Scotty often tells us the story of Darlene, a college-educated woman and former loving wife and mother, who literally becomes a crack whore when grief consumes her. Darlene’s addiction leads her to the Delicious Foods farm where she is held captive by her addiction, literally, and by the nefarious farm owners. The farm work at Delicious Foods is done under slave-like circumstances, with the supervisors meting out violence, paltry pay, and crack as they see fit — which is often and without reason.
When Darlene escapes to the farm, lured there by the promise of drugs, fancy accommodations (they workers end up staying in an unventilated chicken house), eleven-year-old Eddie is left to fend for himself and search the streets of Houston at night for his mother.
Every bit of this story will break your heart, which is why it took me months to read it. There are bits of light and love, humanity and humor in the unrelenting darkness of Delicious Foods, but even so it wasn’t always the way you wanted to end your day drifting off to sleep with images of modern-slavery in your head.
But the writing is so good, you can’t leave the book unfinished. Scotty, you know the crack, has a voice that is so engaging you wanted to go back for more. He have is sly and funny, and often treats his addicts like lovers. If you had told me, “so like crack is an actual character” before I picked up this book, I’d have rolled my eyes. I would have missed out.
This is a toughie in the way that good, moving books can be — dark, unrelenting, depressing — but so worth the effort. Finding out how Eddie went from an eleven-year-old Texas orphan to handless Minnesota business-owner is engaging, but the story of love and how you reconcile loving someone who does such unthinkable things to you is what will stick to your ribs after you close the book.