Despite the title, this is not a recipe book. “Delicious Foods” is an amazing work of fiction — our most recent “great American novel” — with great characters, intense plot and incredible narrative voices. It confronts racism and oppression, violence and trauma, addiction and neglect, capitalism and domination, and the large eternal questions of death, time, love and forgiveness. If we didn’t live in such intense times, it would be hard to believe this story was possible. But times are intense.
When you start reading, your eyes will get big as you try to understand what is happening in the opening scene. Eddie is racing away in a car, you don’t know exactly where or from what. “What the f---?” you might mutter to yourself. What happened to his hands? And then in the next chapter, the narrative voice shifts and we meet Eddie’s mother, Darlene, who has just been demeaned by a prospective customer:
“Lazy! Darlene took a few steps back — the flats made me feel for her since the first time I met her … She made a note to remember that guy and his li’l rabbit face … And lazy working on whose behalf? Hustling this hard at the Peckerwood National Savings Bank, she’d be the damn manager. Hell, Darlene thought, I’d be the CEO. It’d be an easier job too. In that air-conditioning? I have put this paper in this folder.
Now I will return that pen to its holder. Done. I am leaving for the day. Hey, Mrs. Secretary! Where did you put my golf clubs?”
Then the narrative voice shifts again to someone named Scotty, and you’ll wonder with astonishment, “Is this ‘Scotty’ who I think it is? Holy s---!”
The plot is so wild as to seem improbable. But all you have to understand is that people’s lives really can be that nightmarish and that this Southern Gothic tale is symbolic of American experience in a big way.
Delicious Foods is a 21st Century plantation run by white capitalists like 18th and 19th century plantations of the South. But there’s an element of sadism that goes beyond economics. Everyone has to submit to a preposterous system of laws that have nothing to do with justice, logic or even maximizing company profits. Managers make up rules just so they can enforce them.
People are trapped on the plantation, picking crops for supermarkets and unthinking consumers. But it’s more than just the physical beatings, bolted windows, manufactured debt and isolation of the farm; addiction makes Darlene and Titus and everyone else long for the crack their “masters” supply as if it’s the only love in their lives, and this traps them on the farm, too.
Plot that seems implausible becomes realistic when you grasp the force of its symbolism. The elaborate cords that bind Eddie’s hands are the slave’s shackles, the handcuffs that police put on so many black and brown American men especially, and the moral and spiritual shackles binding all of us in this system. The desperate, nearly impossible job of cutting Eddie down from where he is strung up like a lynching is the challenge we continue to face in our own time. We get to be amazed at Eddie’s resilience as he reinvents his life, maimed but free, without the mother he so loves, which is an understatement.
Darlene and Eddie’s lives begin in the civil-rights era when Darlene met the love of her life and Eddie was born, implode in the face of white supremacist hatred, and descend into a spiral of addiction. Darlene’s addiction is long and deep, and it leads to the neglect of her son. It is the embodiment of Johann Hari’s thesis (“Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs”) that addiction is more closely related to unhealed trauma and isolation than it is to the pleasure centers in our brains. But she doesn’t stay addicted forever, as you will see. Recovery is possible, and so is forgiveness between people who have been very seriously hurt:
“An unspoken shame for having momentarily forgotten the past seemed to radiate from her; she skipped over the apparatus, and her fingers made gentle contact with the skin of Eddie’s forearm. It’s okay, he said. Forgiveness never ends, he thought to himself. Either it’s a bottomless cup or it’s nothing. Black — no milk, no sugar.”
Delicious Foods is going to be a major motion picture pretty quick. It deserves a great screenwriter and director. Before it gets to the movie theater, though, try to read the book for yourself. It’s amazing, and in the right hands, it’s going to be an amazing movie. But there are some things it’s going to be hard for the movie to recreate.
Who could possibly play “Scotty”?