Jim Crace's The Devil's Larder (2001) consists of sixty-four tales involving food. The tales are numbered, almost all short-shorts (in fact, the final entry is two words long), and mostly plotless. Initial appearances to the contrary, the stories are not set in "our" reality: invented philosophers to one side, the food is frequently imaginary, as are some of the methods for collecting and even eating it, and there are vague references to historical events that fit no known timeline. Crace thus asks the reader to "dine" at an imaginary table, in which oddly-familiar tales (#5, about childhood disillusionment, references pomegranates and a crab apple tree) co-exist with scatological revenge fantasies (#55, which may put readers off mussels forever) and pure fantasy (#41, which, like #55, may belong on Waiterrant). The tales are particularly intrigued by food's ability to transform and be transformed--food as a process, so to speak--and repeatedly link eating to sex, death, and defecation. Ultimately, Crace links the process of eating, excreting, living, and dying to all creative acts of imagination; if food fuels his characters' minds and bodies, it also provides the object on which their minds and bodies work. Literal acts become figurative and vice-versa, as when a grieving widow eats her husband's ashes, only to be warned by a doctor that "[y]ou can't eat grief. It's far too strong and indigestible. You have to let the grief eat you. You have to let the sorrow swallow you" (163).
Crace usually resists the more comforting, positive connotations of eating. Sharing food often doesn't produce community, and the collection is noticeably short on communion imagery. Tales #23-25, for example, all link eating with alienation or estrangement: a boy's betrayal of an eccentric neighbor by refusing to eat his gifts of food, a mother's growing frustration with her children, an old "friend" sardonically dissecting an apparently repetitive lunch date. Similarly, the cook's practical jokes in #55 unite the local community, to be sure, but do so in what borders on xenophobic fashion. The isolation and awkwardness that permeates these tales carries over into their attitude to imagination, which feeds as much on a kind of starvation (#1, an unidentifiable can of food) as it does on its immediate object. This is not a new observation about imagination--after all, literature groans under the weight of characters who discover that a fantasy come true is rarely fulfilling--but it does contribute to the collection's overall tone of dissatisfaction. Much of the food turns out to be like champagne, "rarely equal to its task or to its reputation" (116).
The reader expecting that Crace will wrap up the collection tightly (as if in Saran Wrap) will no doubt be baffled by #64 (165):
Yes, that's the tale in its entirety. In a sense, it's "raw," and needs to be "cooked." There's an obvious pun (honey as term of endearment/honey as food). But, stripped of its context, this exclamation? ejaculation? note of exasperation? provokes the reader into supplying tone, at the very least. It's a pointedly subjective moment, granted added emphasis by what isn't there: the punctuation mark, without which we have neither an end nor any clue how to read the words on the page. But as in the other tales, there's no guarantee that what the reader cooks up will create an interpretive community with either the author or anyone else.