Food For Cracian Thought
English author, Jim Crace, winner of last year’s National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction with Being Dead, brings another novel of a most unique variety. The Devil’s Larder is a collection of sixty-four very short stories, all with one thing in common – food.
Here Crace has really stretched his creative talents, producing a masterpiece of the most unusual kind. It’s not easy writing short prose and capturing all the necessary details and happenings within that restrictive space; Crace does a masterful job, picking perfect word for the perfect places. If this isn’t done right, it simply does not work. The Devil’s Larder is an example of the process working really well.
In story number seven, we have the owner of a restaurant who is unable to trust his waiters – they keep eating the food he makes as they deliver it to the table. So he imposes a rule: the waiters have to whistle every time they bring out food. This fails, as the waiters tend to leave food wherever they can, and eat it on the way back to the kitchen. So the owner modifies that rule so that they have a whistle coming out and going in; this then annoys the customers. The owner has little choice left: he brings out the meats and fish himself, serving the customers, while everything else is left to the waiters – he just has to trust them.
In number thirty-three, we have a spot that people like to frequent on the beach. It is lush with green grass and growing fruit. So when the people are there, they pick and eat the fruit. Little do they know, as we the readers do with the viewpoint of the narrator, sitting on her balcony watching all this, that the reason the area is so alive with growth is because that’s where the next-door neighbor emptied her cesspit – the fruits are grown from the seeds from her waste.
In story forty-one: “Spitting in the omelet is a fine revenge. Or overloading it with pepper. But take care not to masturbate into the mix, as someone in the next village did, sixty years ago. The eggs got pregnant. When he heated them they grew and grew, becoming quick and lumpy, until they could outwit him (and all his hungry guests waiting with beer and bread out in the yard) by leaping from the pan with their half-wings and running down the lane like boys.”
And with number sixty-one, a great cod is caught by three boys. They are so impressed that they hand it high up on the wall. Next year, times are hard, and they have little choice but to eat the mounted cod. It is now thin and shriveled, so to enlarge it, they leave it in a vat of extremely salty water. It grows beyond their control and is miraculously brought back to life. As the boys fight to catch it, it sneaks pas them, back into the water from whence it came. The boys much now starve.
The Devil’s Larder has stories of every kind imaginable, from all possible viewpoints and aspects. This is what keeps the reader turning the pages: they never know what to expect next. And with Crace, it is always a well-written surprise.
Originally published on November 12th 2001.
Originally published in the Long Beach Union.