April 2, 2010


A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
by Steve Almond
288 pages, Harvest Books

Review by Maria Bustillos

Steve Almond is gloriously obsessed with candy, but Candyfreak isn't really about candy. It's more like a series of essays about (1) obsession and obsessives and (2) the sad state of our corpocracy. But these topics are sweetened with an absolute ton of candy.

Almond's style is super modern, self-deprecatingly confessional in the manner of Franzen or Wallace, rather than in the more stand-up, Sedaris way. Those who like this sort of thing will be pleased, and those who don't, won't. I myself love Almond's discursiveness, his candor and hyperbole. He's very funny, and thoughtful; and though one grows rather tired of rants against the Evil Corporation in general, it can't be denied that the candy industry has been decimated by these same villains, as what hasn't?

The biggest treat here, surprisingly, is Almond's near-miraculous gift for food writing. I'm a dedicated cookbook collector and a pretty keen home cook, and for serious, this guy's food writing is quite up to the standard of Jonathan Gold or Ruth Reichl. I am very serious about this. He is so good that I hadn't even finished the book before going online and ordering a ton of the candy he describes, I kid you not. Here's an example:

Her bite was smooth and concerted--there was an obvious density at play here--though interrupted by two muted snaps, both of which caused her a quarter-moment of anguish, followed by a twinge of delight, registered as a flushing upon her cheeks. She moaned. It was a lovely thing to hear.

This reaction was, in my view, restrained [...:] There was caramel, obviously, but also roasted almonds and nuggets of dark chocolate. It was draped in a thin layer of milk chocolate. The interplay of tastes and textures was remarkable: the teeth broke through the milky chocolate shell, sailed through the mild caramel, only to encounter the smoky crunch of the almonds, and finally, the rich tumescence of the dark chocolate [...:] The sweetness of the milk chocolate rushed across the tongue, played against the musky crunch of the nut, then faded. The bite finished with an intense burst of dark chocolate, softened by the buttery dissolution of caramel ...

(Are you hungry yet?)

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