four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
By: 
Steve Almond
user_rating: 
0

A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America

A-CandyfreakThe aptly named Almond (Almond Joy, Almond Roca) hoards pounds of chocolate candy at all times. Like many of us, he’s obsessed with that oh-so-velvety blend of chocolate, caramel, and marshmallow. In this part memoir, part industrial history, Almond examines America’s insatiable sweet tooth. Fifty years ago, we devoured candy bars called Old King Tut, Tween Meals, and Chicken Dinner. Today, we have chocolate engineers, "cream center managers," "little guy" producers all over the nation, and, of course, the Big Three—Nestlé, Mars, and Hershey’s. It’s a bittersweet journey only "an addict, a confirmed freak" would take. But please, hold the coconut.
Algonquin. 266 pages. $21.95.

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he author has worked off of the absence of his beloved chocolate confection [the Caravelle bar] to create a book that is part memoir of childhood candy consumption, part paean to small candy makers, and tremendously engaging throughout. … Such research [on chocolate factories] is the book’s structural chocolate shell… but the liquid center, the hidden treasure of Candyfreak, consists of Almond’s recollections of his childhood relationship with chocolate." Natalie Danford

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Steve Almond’s laugh-inducing Candyfreak is a tribute to such old-school delights as Valomilk, Goo Goo Cluster and Caravelle that transports readers back to those carefree days. … One word of caution: Reading this delicious narrative on an empty stomach will lead to a hasty trip to your local candy store to search for the delicacies Almond chronicles." Andrea Hoag

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"… Almond, who has written an excellent collection of stories called My Life in Heavy Metal, is the perfect bad-boy writer to capture the classic cocoa Zeitgeist. Bookended by more personal musings from Almond… the thick caramely middle of [the book] features Almond’s informative profiles of some of America’s last standing candy bar companies." Kevin Sampsell

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[F]rom every angle, the book begins funny, gets a little creepy and, with liberal amounts of humor and heart, becomes powerfully good. … What begins as a casual recollection of a childhood trick-or-treat incident becomes the kind of atmospheric elegy that recalls Ray Bradbury." Bill Richardson

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The chapter in which he reveals the childhood roots of his obsession is one of the funnier things I’ve read in a while (imagine David Sedaris with an insatiable sweet tooth). … [T]his is gonzo food writing at its best." Dave Gilson

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"There’s actually the potential for an interesting book here, and every once in a while Almond comes close to realizing it, but this happens mostly toward the end, when he visits four small, provincial candy companies.... Before getting there you have to wade through oceans of self-indulgence, and it’s possible that even people who aren’t being paid to read Candyfreak will have the patience or stamina for the task." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

Candy has taken over Almond’s life. Almond, a creative writing teacher at Boston College, shares his obsession in salivating, bite-by-bite detail. In humorous stream-of-consciousness prose that touches on everything from his childhood to embattled small candy manufacturers, Almond offers a history of American chocolate manufacturing and his love affair with candy. Critics can’t decide whether the best parts explore the provincial companies that The Big Three have not consumed, or his personal reflections on how Caravelle candy bars changed his life. Lone dissent comes from the Washington Post, which accuses Almond of "self-indulgence." But overall, reading Candyfreak "is like following a kid into a candy store" (San Francisco Chronicle).

Supplemental Reading

A-Sweets.epsSweets A History of Candy | Tim Richardson (2001): "For anyone with a sweet tooth, Sweets is manna…. This history of candy is full of delights." New York Times Book Review