Delicious Foods

A Novel


By James Hannaham

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Held captive by her employers — and by her own demons — on a mysterious farm, a widow struggles to reunite with her young son in this uniquely American story of freedom, perseverance, and survival.

Darlene, once an exemplary wife and a loving mother to her young son, Eddie, finds herself devastated by the unforeseen death of her husband. Unable to cope with her grief, she turns to drugs, and quickly forms an addiction. One day she disappears without a trace.

Unbeknownst to eleven-year-old Eddie, now left behind in a panic-stricken search for her, Darlene has been lured away with false promises of a good job and a rosy life. A shady company named Delicious Foods shuttles her to a remote farm, where she is held captive, performing hard labor in the fields to pay off the supposed debt for her food, lodging, and the constant stream of drugs the farm provides to her and the other unfortunates imprisoned there.

In Delicious Foods, James Hannaham tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug that threatens to destroy them. Through Darlene’s haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, through the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, and through the irreverent and mischievous voice of the drug that narrates Darlene’s travails, Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose infuses this harrowing experience with grace and humor.

The desperate circumstances that test the unshakeable bond between this mother and son unfold into myth, and Hannaham’s treatment of their ordeal spills over with compassion. Along the way we experience a tale at once contemporary and historical that wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom, forgiveness and redemption, tenacity and the will to survive.


The worm don’t see nothing pretty in the robin’s song.


—Black proverb

Little Muddy

After escaping from the farm, Eddie drove through the night. Sometimes he thought he could feel his phantom fingers brushing against his thighs, but above the wrists he now had nothing. Dark stains covered the terry cloth wrapped around the ends of his wrists; his mother had stanched the bleeding with rubber cables. For the first hour or so, the divot-riddled road jostled the car, increasing the young man’s agony, and he clenched his teeth through the sickening pain. Steering the vehicle with his forearms stuck in two of the wheel’s holes, Eddie couldn’t keep the Subaru from wobbling and swerving, and he feared the police would notice, pull him over to find that he had no license, and arrest him for stealing the car.

When he came to smooth asphalt, he turned right for no good reason, and after a few miles he saw a sign that proved what he and his mother had believed all along. Louisiana, he breathed. Almost six years in that place. To finally see evidence of his whereabouts momentarily eased his mind, but he had to keep going. He had only a faint memory of where the farm ended, and he couldn’t tell if he’d driven himself closer to the center, where someone might capture or kill him, or away toward freedom.

The gas-pump symbol on the dash turned red around the time he saw signs for Ruston. The owner of the Subaru had left his wallet by the gearshift, and Eddie found $184 in it, which to his seventeen-year-old mind meant he could pay for gas to almost anywhere.

First he went to Houston to look for Mrs. Vernon, but to his surprise, the windows and doors of her bakery had wooden boards nailed over them. That such a responsible woman had either failed or fled implied nothing good about the fate of the neighborhood these past six years. The only other safe place he could think to go was his aunt Bethella’s house. He slithered into an oversize sweatshirt to hide his injuries from her, but when he got to the door, he could tell that someone else lived at her address—all the patio furniture had changed, toys lay jumbled on the cushions, and a wooden sign next to the mailbox said THE MACKENZIES. Since it was too early to knock, he left, but at the curb he spoke with a neighbor who remembered her. She told him Bethella lived in St. Cloud, Minnesota. His aunt had told him that she might move, but not that she had gone so far. Hadn’t she said that she would call with the address? Was that before the phone got cut off?

In the abstract, Eddie knew that Minnesota was far away, but he couldn’t fathom the distance. The name St. Cloud sounded to him like heaven. His confusion only rose when a sleepy Texan trucker in a Stetson made getting there sound easy. You take 45 North till you hit 35, the dude said. Then just keep on 35. That there’s the ramp to 45 just yonder.

To save money, Eddie stopped only at Tiger Marts or On the Gos to get gas and snacks and use the john. If he saw a police car in the lot, he kept going. If a truck-stop bathroom needed a key, he’d go someplace else. After he got his zipper down the first time, he couldn’t pull it up. He thought of sleeping, but whenever he pulled into the corner of a parking lot and lay down in the backseat, fiery twinges of pain snaked up his arms into his neck. When he asked for help squeezing the gas pump, strangers would knit their eyebrows together, shocked eyes asking, This kid can drive without hands? He’d say nothing but bristle and think, I got here, didn’t I?

On the third morning, feeling safer after reaching Minnesota, the pain now a dull throb, he sat nursing a Coke in a diner off I-94, the Hungry Haven, a cozy place decorated in beauty board, with citrus remnants cooked onto the silverware. In the smoking section, a lone waitress sat facing away from the counter, her body slack as any customer’s. An urgent story resounded on the TV behind her. Some rock star in Seattle had shot himself dead. She stared at the highway as if it were God. It took Eddie a while to get her attention, but once he did, she snapped to and hopped over, spine straight, pen behind her ear.

Do you mind, miss? Can’t light it myself, he said, his request muffled by the cigarette he’d wrangled from its box and picked up with his mouth. He grinned and raised his elbows, meeting the woman’s eyes with his own.

Oh! Of course, right, she said, her wide eyes failing to mask her surprise. She struck a match and he inhaled the fire through the cigarette. Gonna be a nice day, she announced, like something profound. Let me know if you need anything else.

Her name tag said SANDY, pinned onto a dingy pink dress with a gray apron wrapped around it. Under her nasal tone something cared so strongly that Eddie moved sideways down the bench a little, crablike, to avoid the power of her interest, fearing that she might get to know him against his will. Sandy turned away.

Actually, I’m looking for work, Eddie blurted out to her back. He wasn’t looking yet, really, but suddenly he needed her kindness, superficial or not, craved it beyond his ability to stay distant. Near here, he went on. He didn’t think Bethella would let him sponge for long. If at all. She might not even care that he’d lost his hands—she’d probably blame his mother.

Sandy turned and the glow left her face. Hmm, she said. What kind?

Of work can I do? You’d be surprised. Fixing stuff. Computers. I also do carpentry, wiring, odd jobs.

Doubt spread across her face, and Eddie thought he could almost read her mind: Now how can this boy do that in his condition?

He sat up. I can do just about anything I set my mind to, he said, pouring brightness over her hesitation. God makes three requests of His children: Do the best you can, where you at, with what you got now.

That’s beautiful, Sandy said. I bet your mama told you that.

Eddie smiled because he knew his mother would never have said such a thing—he’d picked up the saying from Mrs. Vernon—but then it occurred to him that Sandy would think the smile meant Yes, Mama sure did. Confirming that her fantasy of his life was the truth would make her more likely to help. After a brief chat, he told her his full name and she wrote it down on a wet napkin. He figured he’d never hear from her again.

It took Eddie a day and a half to find Bethella. He asked one of the few black pedestrians where he could find a beauty shop, adding that he meant to find his aunt. The pedestrian asked his aunt’s name, which she didn’t recognize, and then recommended he try Marquita’s Beauty Palace on St. Germain. To get there, Eddie had to drive across the Mississippi River—he read the sign aloud as he crossed. It astounded him to think that this was the same river as the one near his hometown, Ovis, Louisiana, and that it flowed as far as he had just driven. Seeing the same river here helped him adjust. The Great River wasn’t wide or grand in Minnesota, but it didn’t fill him with the same panic as it had back home—it had less to do with death. The past didn’t slither through this shallower water; he didn’t imagine any drowned ghosts staring up from the riverbed or bobbing out of culverts, their googly eyes asking Why?

St. Cloud pacified him—its evenly spaced suburban homes reminded him of a balsa-wood city he’d seen in a children’s book. Even its housing complexes sat comfortably beyond tall, healthy trees and sprawling plots of grass, and though a hundred Day-Glo toys might lie upturned on one driveway, the next several lots would have neatly arranged yards already flashing a few green shoots, while here and there a crocus forecast a pleasant spring. It felt more like home than Ovis, a place he hadn’t seen in almost a decade.

Eddie circled the area for nearly half an hour without getting out of the car, suddenly embarrassed not to have hands after what he took to be Sandy’s condescension. But eventually, thinking of how his mother needed him back in Louisiana, he parked at a beauty shop and nudged the door open with his shoulder, holding his arms behind his back with calculated ease. The women at Marquita’s did not know Bethella, but they did know a different beauty shop, the Clip Joint, on the west side. That place had closed for the day by the time Eddie arrived, so, finally exhausted, no longer in the kind of pain that prohibits sleep, he moved the car into the corner of a deserted parking lot, contorted his body into the hatchback, and took a long nap until it got too cold to sleep and he had to turn the engine on, twisting the key in the ignition with his teeth.

When he visited the Clip Joint the next morning, he kept his wrists shoved into his pockets. It was best to keep them raised, but self-consciousness had overtaken him. A beautiful fat woman in a skintight black-and-leopard outfit said she knew his aunt and told him exactly where to find her. She then began a long one-sided conversation, first about how much she admired Bethella, then about the situation in Rwanda and several other subjects. He walked backward out of the shop and she continued to talk, turning her attention toward her coworkers instead.

Still wearing the sweatshirt, now for warmth as well as subterfuge, he arrived at the address the woman had given him and stood on the stoop for a moment, fearing he had the wrong information, then ascended the remaining steps and rang the doorbell. When he swung his forearms, the fabric concealed his wounds and flopped over his wrists in a congenial way, almost like the ears of a friendly dog. He thought that this awkward solution, along with the baggy pants, might make him look enough like a normal seventeen-year-old to fool his aunt for a while. He stuck his wrists back into his pockets.

Presently, he heard movement inside the house, perhaps someone’s feet descending a carpeted staircase, then he saw a finger move a bunched-up taffeta curtain at the side of the door, exposing one of his aunt’s eyes, which registered instant shock. Eddie heard a muffled squeal of delight, and the air moved as she threw open the door in one wide swing. Bethella was a slight woman with a skeptical eyebrow and a high forehead. Grayer now, in chalk-mark streaks, her thin hair stuck to her skull under a pantyhose cap—she hadn’t yet put on today’s wig. A homemade dress with tiny daisies hung on her like it would on a wire hanger, her collarbones poking up, her angular fingers tipped with fragmented nail polish.

The second-to-last time he’d seen her, the Thanksgiving of his tenth year, Bethella had shown up at the Houston apartment he shared with his mother carrying a sweet potato pie encased in tinfoil. Before crossing the threshold, Bethella had told his mother, You’ve got one last chance to be honest with me, Darlene. Have you been using? When his mother shouted, No! Bethella hurled the pie sideways onto the stoop, where it broke and stuck. Then she did an about-face and marched across the pavement to her car.

In her vestibule, she hugged Eddie, and he noticed she had on the same light gardenia perfume she had worn then. The scent returned Eddie to the time when he was eleven and had briefly stayed with Bethella and her husband, Fremont Smalls, in Houston. They had taken him in one night when Darlene had used heavily and gotten stabbed by someone the adults kept calling a friend or her friend, but even then he wondered what kind of friend could stab someone bad enough to require a hospital stay. Between her reluctance to return him to Darlene and his mother’s unpredictability, Bethella ended up keeping him for a week. But she didn’t like children much, and after Eddie accidentally toppled a vase from Thailand—which hadn’t even broken—she decided, as he figured it, to wait long enough that she would not have to admit any causality and then deliver him back to his mother once she got home from the hospital. Or as Bethella put it, She needs you. Fremont worked long hours, he wasn’t home often enough to weigh in on the matter. Two days later, Bethella returned Eddie to his apartment at dusk and locked him in hastily, not wanting to interact with his mother, but as soon as Eddie entered, he realized that Darlene had gone again already. He knelt on the couch, pulled the blinds apart, and watched Bethella drive away.

Bethella now taught social studies and French in the St. Cloud school system, she told him. She and Fremont had moved north from Houston to be closer to his family, and he had worked at Melrose Quarry almost five years.

From what his mother often said about Bethella, he expected to find empties piled in the closets and the backs of cabinets, but he saw none. Darlene felt that Bethella had her nerve judging Darlene when she had her own habits, but like many families, everyone wandered around like children in a funhouse—they could hardly see one another around the corners, and what they could see was completely distorted.

The sweatshirt trick did not fool Bethella. Almost immediately after standing back from his stiff hug, she stared at his right sleeve, lunged forward like someone trying to catch a falling plate, and seized his forearm. As she unsheathed his arm, her face took on an expression mixing compassion with horror.

Good God Almighty, Edward. What on earth! When did this happen?

Eddie supposed that she’d asked When because it was easier to answer than How. A few days ago, he said.

Bethella said, Lord have mercy, almost whispering, her lids narrowed, jaw low. Lord have mercy.

Everybody black knows how to react to a tragedy. Just bring out a wheelbarrow full of the Same Old Anger, dump it all over the Usual Frustration, and water it with Somebody Oughtas, all of which Bethella did. Then quietly set some globs of Genuine Awe in a circle around the mixture, but don’t call too much attention to that. Mention the Holy Spirit whenever possible. Bethella shook her head and spoke hazily of the Lord’s Plan.

We have to get you to a doctor, she said. Who did this? Why? Where have you been?

Too many questions to answer at once, Eddie thought. It’s okay now, he told her, which seemed to pacify her momentarily, but it didn’t take long for her to peer at him, her skeptical eyebrow rising like a drawbridge.

Okay in what sense? she said.

I have to go back for my mom.

Bethella pulled her chin back and shouted, Oh, Darlene! as if his mother were standing there. I am guessing this isn’t the first time, she said. What the Sam Hill has that lady gotten you into now, that someone did this to you? Come in already, boy, let me close the door. Hands! My God!

Mostly Bethella’s house smelled of mold, with hints of stale candy, mothballs, and something earthy, maybe manure from the garden or chitterlings boiled last night. Dust had settled on the plastic-covered furniture. Nobody had sat on it in a long time. Eddie decided not to be the first and took a seat in the kitchen. Bethella walked over to the kitchen phone, announcing that she was calling her doctor, but Eddie begged her not to, insisting that he did not need help, that the wounds did not even hurt much anymore. It took some doing to convince her, but she eventually relaxed and offered him tea in a chipped mug, and, wanting to placate her more than he wanted the beverage, he accepted.

You sip it out of that straw, she said.

The hot liquid was weird and bitter, something herbal you couldn’t improve even with sugar.

Maté, she explained. From South America.

Having summers off allowed Bethella to travel and bring back bizarre cultural things. Eddie sipped, asking himself why exotic stuff always had to be disgusting. Bitter vegetables, fish heads. Trying not to taste, he commented on the odd flavor of the drink, knowing at once that this type of discomfort would color his whole visit. So much for freedom.

Bethella wrinkled her nose and said, And you won’t be smoking in my house.

They moved into the dining room and he sat. How long you think you’ll need to stay? Bethella asked. She probably hadn’t meant for it to sound impatient, but a consistent quality in her voice telegraphed impatience no matter her intentions. A long pause clouded the space between them.

Eddie didn’t know how long he would stay, maybe only until somebody from the farm discovered where he’d gone, or until he figured out how to get Darlene back. But he couldn’t face that. He winced at Bethella’s ability to reject—it was as if she had brought him back to his drug-addict mother again. The pressure she put on him to explain and the memory of her previous rejection rising up a second time made him feel like someone had taken hold of his gut and twisted until it emptied out at both ends. He projected his agony through his face and let out a strange sound, a sigh blended with a growl, burnished with a whimper. Then he put his wrists in front of his face and curled into his own lap.

Bethella pulled her shoulders back slightly and remained silent for a while in the face of his animal response. She swallowed. Oh no, dear! she said. I meant how long do you need to stay before you go get your mother. I’m sorry. She patted his shoulder and stroked it. It’s fine, everything’s fine, she soothed. And though it wasn’t—and might never be—the words painted over everything. I mean, I hope you’re not expecting me to go with you. I’ll help you to the amount that I can, but it’s probably best if you don’t bring her up here and—

Eddie scowled and his aunt closed her mouth. After a pause, she sighed and turned on the television, which she kept in the dining room for some reason. Afternoon-news trumpets blared.

Stay awhile, she said to the television. I understand. It’s okay.

She lied, he figured, because the truth was always a tiger, and the past, with its ugliness and struggle, was a ditch so deep with bodies it could pass for a starless night.

After the news, she showed him to what she called the guest room—actually the attic—by pulling down the staircase from the ceiling with a rope and urging him up without going in herself.

A former student in need of sanctuary was my last guest, she told him. About a year ago. A few months before Fremont passed.

Eddie flinched.

Right, I guess you didn’t hear that Fremont passed. She sighed. Since your mother dragged you off to God knows where.

Eddie shook his head and stared at her dumbly. I reckoned he was working, he said.

You know he had a bad heart. I mean a good heart, but it didn’t work so well. Plus the hypertension. And hard as I tried, I could not get that man to eat right. It happened at work. Bethella paused, her eyes glistening. February seventeenth last year, she whispered.

He was a good man, Eddie managed to say as he turned to climb the stairs. He loved music.

Lit by a single bulb, a twin-size mattress, neatly dressed with striped bedclothes faintly burned by the old dryer, created a small oasis in the middle of a disorderly storage space. A pilly orange blanket lay on top. Gradually disintegrating piles of dusty jazz albums, carefully folded woolen blankets, a broken decades-old vacuum cleaner, and an antique fan clogged the periphery of the room. A long box that looked like an old suitcase caught Eddie’s attention, but when he unsnapped its clasps, with some difficulty, to discover a shining brass trombone inside, nestled in red velveteen, the sight put him in mind of both Fremont and a body lying in a coffin and he flipped the case shut. Eddie stared around the dim room, doubtful that he could sleep well there. He pictured nights of watching for unpleasant signs in the inky crevice where the halves of the roof came together.

In less than an hour Bethella changed her mind and insisted that Eddie see a doctor. My doctor, she said, she’s a Chinese, perhaps assuming that her nephew would not accept a white physician. Eddie wasn’t immediately swayed, though, and Bethella gave him a lecture on the stubbornness of certain black men in the family, like his grandfather P. T. Randolph and his uncle Gunther. You’re acting just like your granddad. He enjoyed sitting in his pain and just wallowing, she said. Well, Gunther’s got all the time in the world to feel sorry for himself now in prison. All of you are smart enough to know exactly how the world screwed you, and the Man screwed you, and that there’s no hope to change it. Your daddy wasn’t like that. See, he was on the Hardison side. A fine man. He tried to change things!

Eddie shot a weary look at his aunt.

Oh, they got him, she continued proudly, but at least he died fighting. She scratched her biceps and continued. Fine. Be hardheaded. But I don’t have any time for a young man who loses his phalanges and won’t see a doctor. And you’re going to tell me how this happened and who is responsible ASAP so help me God.

At first Eddie resented Bethella’s involvement and resisted going to a doctor merely for the sake of resisting, but after a while he admitted the stupidity of his stubbornness, and weighing it against the possibility of gangrene, the workings of which Bethella explained to him in detail, he agreed to go. She offered to pay half or figure out how to put him on her insurance. I’ll say you’re my son, she promised. Quietly, he enjoyed that idea.

Dr. Fiona Hong had a clever face and an easy, staccato laugh. Her limbs seemed loose for someone in medicine, someone who had to jab folks with needles. Her swooping arms won Eddie over. It didn’t bother him that she called him by his first name. When she unwrapped his bandages, she did not register very much shock, or even curiosity. Instead she seemed impressed, almost thrilled. Maybe doctors liked unusual cases.

We’re going to need to get you to the OR, Eddie. Pretty much right now. Her bright, possibly nervous laugh sounded like a bark. You’ll also need antibiotics and painkillers, she informed him. And we’ll see each other again soon. Okay?

Several days and doctors later, as the two of them rode back to Bethella’s house, his aunt’s thin patience disappeared. Her head flicking toward him like a bird’s, her eyes reddish and intent and halfway off the road, she said, You’re not telling me what happened because you don’t want me to know what your mother did. When are you planning to stop protecting her? Stop protecting her. What, did she do it herself?

Eddie did not agree with Bethella, but he knew better than to sass the most responsible member of the older generation, especially when he needed to sleep in her attic. If he argued, she would pull rank and stick to her version anyway. Mostly he wanted to make sure his aunt knew that Darlene was not to blame.

A few weeks after arriving in St. Cloud, Eddie started to pick up jobs here and there. He randomly encountered Sandy, the waitress from the Hungry Haven, at a drugstore and she told him that an overworked construction guy who didn’t do concrete had heard about a divorcée in a Victorian outside Pierz who needed a whole pool patio and front walkway done. Pouring concrete didn’t require much finesse, and the construction guy could handle anything Eddie couldn’t. When Eddie met with him, the guy made the call while Eddie sat right there. People did favors for strangers here, Eddie noted, without exactly being friendly. Nevertheless, he felt like he had a reprieve. Bethella had mixed feelings about his decision to work. Sometimes she warned him to get a diploma, other times she openly wished for solitude, seeming to imply that he should get a steady job and get gone.

Eventually Bethella stopped tolerating Eddie’s announcements about going to find Darlene. Your mother and I—she would begin, always neglecting to finish the thought. Then she’d say, Just don’t. You have to have a bottom line.

Darlene had called the house, begging him to return, but it soon dawned on Eddie that she hadn’t quit drugs. Their conversations splintered into anger and incoherence, and while brooding over their relationship in his workspace—aka Bethella’s basement—one day, he admitted to himself that some problems—and some people—can never get fixed, even by a skilled handyman.

After that, Eddie might speak abstractly about going to rescue his mother, but he said very little to his aunt about the exploitation and injury he’d suffered at Delicious Foods. She never encouraged him to return for Darlene, and she never asked for details. The more time went by, the more ashamed he grew about taking Darlene’s side, and the more he saw the sense in Bethella’s dispassionate, rational decision to cut her off.

In the meantime, good luck at work made hedging easier for him. His one job grew other jobs, then an apprenticeship, and soon a regular business sprouted up around him. That September Eddie turned eighteen and moved from Bethella’s to an apartment just down the street, so they could still look out for each other. Sometimes Eddie would go over to her house to watch her new favorite TV show, a sentimental series featuring a black woman angel. She would rub his shoulder blade and describe her pride in him, but he could still hear the undertones of her relief that he’d left. She might come over with a piled-up plate sometimes—no sweet potato pies, but juicy greens that made the breading flop off her overcooked fried chicken; mashed potatoes in a tinfoil pouch, soaking up its metallic taste; undercooked pig feet. He ate only enough to be polite. He never complained—he knew that good intentions always trumped bad soul food, and he grew as comfortable with the surrogate motherhood she provided as she did with the way that he partially filled the space left by Fremont’s death.

In due time, Eddie learned to stick a pen in his mouth and write again, and once he gained some skill, he sketched out a device: Two short cups, each with a pair of pincers attached, a simpler model of a prosthetic hook he’d studied in a trade magazine. The carpenter to whom he’d become apprenticed helped him make a version out of wood—cheaper that way. Together they perfected it, a custom fit for the end of his right arm. They smoothed and finished it, covered it in a lightweight polymer, and when that one worked, they made another for his left, attached it to a harness with catgut strings, and looped it around his back.

Wearing the contraption felt as grand to him as putting on an expensive new suit. Eddie stretched his arms and elbows, testing out the potential for movement, for subtle inflections in each pincer, for a lifelike bend in the wrist. The prosthesis seemed to wipe out the past and stretch the future into infinity. Eddie began to hope ferociously. Perhaps he would go back south after all and get Darlene to leave Delicious whether she wanted to or not.


  • "[A] sensational new novel about the tenacity of racism and its bizarre permutations... bounce[s] off the page with the sharpest, wittiest, most unsettling cultural criticism I've read in years... Hannaham is a propulsive storyteller... the whole story speeds through the dark... never takes its foot off the gas... An archetypal tale of American struggle... Reminiscent of Edward P. Jones's The Known World...[A] fantastically creative performance... [An] insightful and ultimately tender novel... You will devour this book." Ron Charles, Washington Post
  • "A writer of major importance... Moments of deft lyricism are Hannaham's greatest strength, and those touches of beauty and intuitive metaphor make the novel's difficult subject matter easier to bear... The novel's finest moments are... in the singular way that Hannaham can make the commonplace spring to life with nothing more than astute observations and precise language."—New York Times Book Review
  • "Hannaham's prose is gloriously dense and full of elegant observations that might go unmade by a lesser writer. There is a great warmth in this novel that tackles darkness... [Hannaham] creates full-bodied characters. Even the minor figures are drawn with subtle details... Hannaham's decision to give a voice to crack--in the character Scotty--occasions some lively and inventive writing. Scotty has swagger and a sly sense of humor, and when he narrates he holds your attention... The character is complex, both tender and ruthless... A grand, empathetic, and funny novel about addiction, labor exploitation, and love... Delicious Foods should be read for its bold narrative risks, as well as the heart and humor of its author's prose."—Roxane Gay, Bookforum
  • "Harrowing... Hannaham details a cycle of despair and enslavement in the poverty-ridden South... What emerges is the powerful tale of a place whose past is 'a ditch so deep with bodies it could pass for a starless night.'"
    The New Yorker
  • "Delicious Foods has plenty of magic in it, and plenty of tragedy... A powerful allegory about modern-day slavery, Delicious Foods explores the ways that even the most extraordinary black men and women are robbed of the right to control their own lives... [Hannaham] is serious about investigating the long-term effects of internalized racism, and the despair that prevents people from helping themselves... A sharp critique of the American belief that you can do anything as long as you work hard."—Entertainment Weekly
  • "The novel's unforgettable cast... satisfies all our readerly cravings and without ostentation... The story's twists are at times implausible but nonetheless are a great feat of imagination. Hannaham has put his characters in the perfect conditions for these issues to play out--and for us to believe them... From what we've seen go down at Delicious, from the tenacity of this mother and son, we know it's love that keeps us going. Love is a rock every bit as hard as those diamond stars. Its indestructible beauty is enough to break down the earthly rocks that are its meager imitations."—The Rumpus
  • "James Hannaham's satirical and darkly humorous look at racism, drugs, and the American South begins intensely... and doesn't let up... This brutal and beautiful tome is irresistible."
    USA Today
  • "Delicious Foods is not a story about the death of the American Dream, but an illumination of the fantasies that surround it, and the denial that permits us to believe in its innocence. It is also a compelling and haunting tale of family, responsibility, and endurance."—Guernica
  • "An audacious, heartbreaking story... that is intended to be allegorical, but unearths a horror that is real and whose roots reach all the way back to slavery... Hannaham brilliantly creates a metaphor for human trafficking, modern-day industrialism, the pernicious effects of the war on drugs, and society's greedy need for 'quality' delivered as cheaply as possible... Delicious Foods stay[s] in the mind... A breathtaking depiction of how difficult is to break a spirit down, and how stubborn and resilient people can be. "—Maclean's
  • "Strange and often haunting, Hannaham's brilliant look at the parent and child relationship, and the things that can tear that normally unbreakable bond apart, could be one of the best novels of 2015."—Men's Journal
  • "Disturbing and addictive... This dark story is horrific, engrossing, deeply moving, and surprisingly funny at times... The subject matter in this tale of survival is uncomfortable and unfortunately all-too believable, but Hannaham's inventive storytelling and care for his characters fill this bleak world with much needed hope and love. Delicious Foods is hard to swallow at times, but also hard to put down."—Winnipeg Free Press
  • "In lesser hands, Delicious Foods could easily have been a dark and dreary saga of misery and pain. Instead, Hannaham gleefully rides the lightness. There is no dwelling in sorry here--only movement to find a way forward to something better. No matter how bad things get, you are breathing, you are alive. Therein lies the joy."—The Root
  • "Delicious Foods is a tale both hopeful and tragic, of the triumph of the human spirit, and the cruelties of man and nature...Delicious Foods is, above all else, an American story: a story of slavery and power, defiance and grit, and hope for a better day."
    Cedar Rapids Gazette
  • "Delicious Foods is an epic and devastating hero's journey... [It] is the result of a master storyteller at the top of his game. Don't miss it."—Buzzfeed Books
  • "Hannaham's new book begins with one of the strongest openings for a novel in recent memory... Propelled by the force of the questions raised by those opening lines, Delicious Foods progresses with an almost hallucinogenic fervor."—National Post
  • "This is a book of astonishing originality and power. In Delicious Foods, James Hannaham has created a wholly new world--a hallucinatory place shot through with struggle and terrible deeds--but one never lacking light or hope. Hannaham reinvents the Southern gothic with prose at once brutal and lyrical and drop-dead gorgeous. This is a hell of a novel."
    Dave Eggers, author of A Hologram for the King and The Circle
  • "James Hannaham's new novel is a tour de force. Gripping, haunting, and deeply moving, it beguiles the reader with the urgent immediacy of its characters' lives, while also reverberating with universal themes of freedom and enslavement, love and survival."—Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize winner for A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • "Delicious Foods is a strange and compelling American horror story, arrived at through fresh narrative strategies. A mother, a son, drugs, workers enslaved in a gruesome nightmare, love and survival--this is a wonderfully conjured novel."
    Daniel Woodrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Maid's Version and Winter's Bone
  • "Bury me with this book, so I will remember how wonderful living was--the food, the words, the stories, the places, the feeling of freedom. Delicious Foods is a magnificent novel, full of beauty a great writer can make of even the most terrifying parts of life."—Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat
  • "Delicious Foods is virtuosity on a hire wire--a wild, romping, brilliant plot, capped off with bodacious characters and breathtaking prose. A completely unforgettable, original, and singular novel by a brave, exciting new writer."
    Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow
  • "A comic novel about family, addiction, and getting in too deep."—O Magazine
  • "An audacious novel about poverty, grief, addiction and the bond between mother and son--told with a ferocious voice not unlike those of previous Discover selections Ruby by Cynthia Bond and Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng."—Shelf Awareness
  • "A Southern farm provides the backdrop for a modern-day slavery tale in this textured, inventive and provocatively funny novel... A poised and nervy study of race in a unique voice."
    Kirkus (starred review)
  • "Delicious Foods is fiercely imaginative and passionate. There are echoes here of Ralph Ellison and Zora Neale Hurston, even at times of Zola or Kafka. The investigation of Nat's disappearance is not the only instance of racism in law enforcement; in that respect, the novel is timely, even prophetic. Few novels leap off the page as this one does.Delicious Foods is a cri de coeur from a very talented and engaging writer."—Bookpage (Top Pick of the Month)
  • "With its ragged Southern vernacular, clever personification, and horrific opening scene, Delicious Foods is violent and grim, but it's ultimately a reminder of how, amid poverty and addiction, love can prevail."—Out Magazine
  • "If The Great Gatsby was the Great American Novel of the twentieth century, Delicious Foods could be that of the early twenty-first. If the plot sounds like tough going, Hannaham's masterpiece is anything but. The writing makes it "great," and the themes of pain, forgiveness, exploitation, and self creation make it American. It is simply unmissable."
    Booklist (starred review)
  • "Hannaham's seductive and disturbing second novel grips the reader from page one... The light he shines on the realities of racial injustice, human trafficking, drug abuse, and exploitation make a deep imprint on the reader. But as devastating as Darlene, Eddie, and the other laborers' situations become, the heroic themes of love, forgiveness, and redemption carry this memorable story."—Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
  • "This talented author conveys the story as no other could, except possibly Tony Morrison, as in The Bluest Eye. But Hannaham may actually surpass Morrison's considerable talents in conveying the darkness of our struggles."—Peter Kelton, The Examiner

On Sale
Mar 17, 2015
Page Count
384 pages

James Hannaham

About the Author

James Hannaham is the author of the novels God Says No, a Stonewall Book Award finalist, and Delicious Foods, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist as well as a New York Times Notable Book. He lives in Brooklyn, where he teaches at the Pratt Institute.

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