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.