Season Three of the ABC series American Crime premiered on March 12. This season shines a spotlight on indentured servitude, essentially slavery, in the U.S. agricultural industry. So, what better time to take another look at a book recommended last May. While the idea at first may seem farfetched (what? slavery here?), it is anything but, as the reference in the opening paragraphs of the review show; it couldn’t realer.
By James Hannaham
Every once in a while when sitting down to dinner, perhaps you wonder idly where your veggies and fruits come from, maybe even who grows and picks them for you. Even under the best of circumstances picking and packing crops is hard work. But who would believe slave laborers pick and pack our food? Overworked, underpaid, yes, but not virtual slaves, right?
Yet, while not the norm, slave labor does exist in the USA. Don’t believe it? Google Jewel Goodman, Tampa Bay Times, and read about near slavery of the type James Hannaham uses as a focal point of his powerful and fast-paced novel of people in desperate poverty and in the throes of crack cocaine addiction. As the story reports, “Goodman is one of more than 1,000 slaves who have gained freedom in Florida since 1997.” The thrust being: Delicious Foods is less the product of wild imagination than even wilder and sadder reality for too many.
We meet Eddie in flight, on his way to Minnesota, driving a car, steering with his forehead and arms, as where once he had hands, now are phantoms and bloody stumps. We see how he overcomes and establishes himself as the “Handyman Without Hands,” and then how his predicament came about.
Scotty tells the bulk of the sorry. He, or it, turns out to be quite a novel narrative device, for readers will be hard pressed to think of a novel narrated by crack cocaine. It’s through his smokey, quelling, and even at times humorous vernacular that readers learn about Darlene, Eddie’s mother.
Darlene, once a happy college girl, wife of a college basketball star and later civil rights activist, has been reduced, through guilt and hopeless, to a street hooker, answering to the siren call of escapism preached by Scotty. Fleeing her past, enraptured by her addiction, she falls prey to the promises of a better life offered by representatives of Delicious Foods. Once in their grasp, they encumber and shackle her, from the very first moments, in financial servitude.
For the majority of time, the novel centers on Darlene’s years at Delicious Foods. She lives in deplorably filthy conditions, subsists on what most would regard as not even good enough to be garbage, works long, hard hours under the harshest conditions and abusive supervision, torments herself over her false belief she caused the death of her husband, longs for her son Eddie, dreams of escaping, and mellows all her emotional and physical suffering into the background with the help of her companion, the always available Scotty. It’s her entire servitude to Delicious Foods that readers might think fiction but which, to some degree, is reality for many, and sets you to wondering, “How much pain is in the produce section of the supermarket?”
The story reconnects with Eddie, a young teen, when he finds his mother and ends up working years beside her on the farm. It’s only his intrepidness, combined with a handful of other determined characters, and a newsman with a nose for exposé, that springs them free of Delicious Foods’ grasp, but at the cost of Eddie’s hands and his relationship with his mother.
However, readers should not fear a grim ending, as Hannaham brings his tale to a close on a note of hope and redemption regarding Darlene and Eddie, though for some readers this may push the bounds of credulity understanding the tight clutch of Scotty. w/c