DELICIOUS FOODS

A poised and nervy study of race in a unique voice.

A Southern farm provides the backdrop for a modern-day slavery tale in this textured, inventive and provocatively funny novel.

The second novel by Hannaham (Creative Writing/Pratt Institute; God Says No, 2009) opens with a harrowing prologue: Eddie, a black 17-year-old, is manically driving a truck from a Louisiana plantation that he’s escaped. His hands have been cut off for reasons not explained till the end of the novel, and he’s desperate to get to Minnesota. The story then snaps back to six years earlier, as Eddie’s mother, Darlene, descends into crack addiction after the murder of her husband, a shop owner and community organizer who fell afoul of local bigots. While working as a prostitute, she and other addicts and indigents are corralled by a woman into a van and coerced to sign a contract that effectively makes them the property of Delicious Foods, a produce farm that plies its workers with drugs and alcohol to extract cheap, unquestioning labor. What’s so funny about any of that? Partly Hannaham’s daring approach to style and point of view: Much of the novel is narrated by the crack Darlene is addicted to. Nicknamed Scotty, the drug first shows up as a few rocks in her purse as she works the streets and throughout has a voice like the devil on your shoulder. (“I rushed into the few doubting and unbelieving parts left in Darlene’s mind and I shouted, Babygirl, surrender to yes! Say yes to good feelings!”) The plot turns on Darlene’s struggles at Delicious Foods and Eddie’s efforts to find her, and in the process, Hannaham finds room to comment on and satirize a variety of racial (and racist) iconographies, from watermelons to David Duke to voodoo to the sexual demands of plantation owners. In that context, the fate of Eddie’s hands becomes a potent allegory for centuries of black men and women stripped of the power to control their destinies.

A poised and nervy study of race in a unique voice.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-28494-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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THE GREAT ALONE

A tour de force.

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In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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