Let's get it out of the way right up front, just as the author does: yes, his last name is Almond. And he's writing about candy. And yes, he has heard a lot of "Almond Joy" jokes in his lifetime. And yes, they have gotten quite stale.
Candyfreak by Steve Almond
"A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America"
I myself am a candy freak, so I was intrigued to learn about Almond's book, in which he sets out to tour and describe several regional candy bars. Of course, the first thing I did upon obtaining the book on Kindle was to search for "Red Vines" and "Twizzlers."
I was pleased to learn that Almond is a Red Vines fan, as is right and proper. This is the kind of thing that is important to candyfreaks. (I laughed SO HARD at a recent Parks & Rec episode where Leslie Knope tells Ben, "We're a Red Vines family. You're going to have to get used to that.")
Regional candy is increasingly a thing of the past. The big candy conglomerations either buy out the little guy, or shoulder the little guy off the shelves thanks to the exorbitant slotting fees at major retailers. Thus, small time candies (like the Idaho Spud and Mountain Bars, which are native to my region) are kicked down to the second or third tier stores. I can reliably find oddball candy at Walgreen's and Bartell's, small drug stores that have equivalents all across the nation. Beyond that, it's all about the same.
This is a somewhat odd situation, given the ability to sell things over the internet. Internet sales have revived many formerly small regional concerns. By taking their products online, small family owned companies can cut out the middle man and distribution costs. Unfortunately, candy can be difficult to ship. (One of the candies Almond profiles, Valomilk cups, cannot be flown over the Rockies lest the cups rupture and turn to a sticky mass inside the wrapper.)
Almond is a funny writer, able to turn a clever phrase when needed, to breeze through parts that need breezing through, and take time to ponder things that need pondering. This deft touch with the craft is needed, for otherwise the book would have seemed somewhat repetitive. (It's the same story everywhere, I'm afraid.) It even takes a surprisingly dark turn at the end, when Almond faces the failures and dissatisfactions of his own life, in what seems like the literary version of a sugar crash.
Cover image copyright Steve Almond/Mariner Books