When I began reading the first of the 64 short vignettes that
comprise Jim Crace's THE DEVIL'S LARDER, certain early conclusions
formed. Food was to be the theme of each of the diminutive tableaux
in the tiny volume. But by the time I reached, all too soon, the
last of the 163 pages, I was reminded once again that forming early
conclusions is the intellectual process that keeps the Las Vegas
wedding chapel industry in the chips.
THE DEVIL'S LARDER is not about food. Food is there, certainly, in
each of the exquisitely crafted little stories. But to say that
these stories are about food is like saying that Saving Private
Ryan is a movie about Tom Hanks. So what are these stories
about? And why are they so affecting? I understood the day after I
first opened the book.
I had a serious craving for apple pie. One minute I'm fine, and the
next thing I know there's an apple pie cooling on the windowsill of
my mind, as the sounds of children playing on a creaking swing set
are carried in on a fragrant summer breeze that billows the simple
cotton curtains. Hey, it's my mind. Back off.
There are those who say that food is fuel. For Jim Crace and THE
DEVIL'S LARDER, food is exactly that, but in a sense that has
absolutely nothing to do with nutrition or digestion. To be more
precise, in Crace's remarkably rich little explorations, food is a
medium through which passes the entire breadth and scope of human
emotion and interaction. Nostalgia, temptation, guilt, violence,
lust, gratification, risk, delusion, and fear. But there is no pie.
Pie is not the issue. Hunger is not the issue.
Some of these stories cover three or four pages; most require only
a few paragraphs, and one is exactly two words long, which makes
the wit and depth and power on display all the more surprising. And
It is difficult to avoid using food analogies to describe THE
DEVIL'S LARDER. Thank Jim Crace for that. His stories demonstrate
that as an element critical to human survival, food has taken root
in our ability to express thought and emotion. Try to get through
any conversation without using a food-related metaphor and you'll
see what I mean. Have you ever had to swallow a bitter pill? Eat
humble pie? Do you have a sweet disposition? Do you drive a lemon?
Do you have a gravy job? Did you sugarcoat some bad news? Do you
know on which side your bread is buttered? Do you bring home the
There's a reason that the language of food has permeated the
language of expression. Jim Crace understands this. Reading THE
DEVIL'S LARDER makes it all very clear and, if you'll forgive me,
Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 21, 2011
The Devil's Larder