by Steve Almond, appearing at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside, Wednesday May 19, 7:30 pm
In addition to being a self-diagnosed sugar addict, Steve Almond also has a fitting style for a book about candy. A master of hyper-literate pop, he peppers his edified prose with descriptive terms like "pornoriffic." The end product is the intellectual equivalent of a Snickers bar; an illusion of sustenance that doesn't actually fill you up.
Almond begins strongly, etching his candy craving evolution with appealing good humor. "If I had been the kind of kid who kept a diary," he writes, "the entries from the years 12 to say, 16, would have read: Got high, ate candy." He also expounds eloquently on the "big three" of the candy world, Hershey's, Nestle, and Mars. Turns out there have been nearly 100,000 different candies throughout American history, most of which have been crushed by the uprising of these corporate megaliths.
In a wave of nostalgic indignation, Almond engages the second half of Candyfreak with a series of tours of some of the few independent candy factories still doing business. Bizarrely, as if the sugar buzz has worn off, Almond also becomes morbidly depressed at this point, taking dour digressions into his anxieties about aging and lackluster love life. Self-angst can be a fertile literary topic, but are declarations like "In certain ways, I wanted to die. And in certain ways, I felt dead already," really necessary in a book about candy? In the wake of Almond's self-pity, his interest in his subject matter fades away, and his initial exuberant candy coverage trickles to a tepid stream of depictions of different candy factories. After, oh, the sixth factory tour Almond devotes an entire chapter to, things start to run together a bit.
This unfettered descent into indifference is almost shocking, and Candyfreak doesn't end with a whimper so much as a complete blackout. It's totally unfair to the reader who was hoping for a lighthearted exploration in the world of candy (which is how the book is being marketed). But then again, Candyfreak also mirrors the candy-eating experience perfectly: It gives you an initial rush of good cheer that quickly wears off, leaving you wishing you'd devoured something a bit more wholesome instead. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS