Candy and Me
by Hilary Liftin
2003 • 224 pages • Free Press
For me, it was always Shockers (née Shocktarts). Just typing out the name makes my mouth water. They are (and, despite my ability to restrain myself from purchasing them all the time, remain) the perfect confection for me. Wholly artificial sugar rounds with a gloriously tart and hard exterior that, after some sucking, gave way to a soft, chewy, and sweet center. (Warheads, being all sour, do not appeal to my love of texture.) I bought them in the rolls, I bought them in the bags. I found one at the bottom of my purse once and had to talk myself out of eating it, because I’m an adult and not a feral child. I unrolled the roll one pellet at a time, always hoping that it was mostly red, purple, and the most treasured flavor—blue.
When I discovered, in college, that you could buy entire theater boxes of them, I practically exploded. Invited to a repeat viewing of Sherlock Holmes, I brought along this newfound glory. After perfunctorily offering my friends some, I set to devouring the entire box. Halfway through the film, my mouth started to feel like it was vibrating. In the bathroom after the film, I bared my teeth and stuck my tongue at my reflection. My bleeding tongue. I had, by sucking on the sour coating, managed to scrape a great deal of skin off of my tongue.
Other people—such as the people I would stick out my bleeding, candy-colored tongue at (sorry, y’all)—would be turned off by this development. I just had to learn exactly which number of Shockers I could consume before inflicting bodily harm on myself. In a way, I’m lucky. My favorite candy has a built-in system to make me stop eating it. Eventually.
Most people have a candy like that—one that has a story, not one that they’ll willingly harm themselves to eat. (Some people don’t like sweets. They are an odd and dear type, mostly because that means I can feel good about offering to share my candy and feel good about the fact that I don’t actually have to share my candy.) Hilary Liftin has a lot of candies like that. Practically built for candy, as she half-brags, half-admits in Candy and Me, her first memory of candy is eating pure, raw sugar. Over time, her tastes became more complex, to the point that her friends and family regularly bring her back her favorite inaccessible candy, Bottle Caps, from abroad. Her husband even proposed to her with one.
As a pretty standard memoir—an alienated girl grows up, faces nonlethal challenges, and finds true love—Candy and Me definitely profits by Liftin’s lifelong love affair with candy. While it more or less follows in chronological order, each section is focused on a specific candy. There’s hot cocoa mix, which she and her friends at school steal from the cafeteria and eat; Skittles as the found break during a boring job; and her preference for generic jelly beans over Jelly Belly jelly beans. Each more or less has a corresponding event in her life. For instance, she gives a friend of hers a shoebox full of candy as a child and realizes that she can’t stop eating candy, while her friends more or less lose interest and ignore the box.
Liftin’s tastes are certainly not my tastes (she likes white chocolate, quelle horreur), and her devotion to sugar—to the point of eating wedding cake fondant, the rare (perhaps sole?) food item that actively repulses me—is downright admirable. But sense memory is so potent that I adore reading any kind of food writing, especially when it’s personal.
But the arc of Liftin’s memoir suggests that finding true love—not her rapturous fling with her creepily predatory camp counselor, who waited three years for her to become legal—is the cure for her candy obsession. I always hesitate to assign critical value to chains of events in memoirs. It’s not history written by the victors, but someone expressing her life experiences. Things happen the way they happen. I can’t fault reality for that. But I found something slightly perturbing about Liftin feeling constant shame about her mindless eating habit (which she never identifies as such in the memoir) until she blissfully utterly forgets about it when her beloved proposes to her. (Without having ever discussing marriage, which is just a personal squick of mine.)
Overall, Candy and Me is a light, fluffy read. Even writing this pretty brief review is hard, because it melts off the brain like so much… so much…
Ah, it’ll come to me.
I rented this book from the public library.