Poppy Z. Brite Liquor Reviewed by Serena Trowbrige

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Poppy Z Brite

Three Rivers Press/Crown/Random House

US Trade Paperback

ISBN: 1400050073

Pages: 352; Price: $13.95

Date Reviewed: 17th July 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004



General Fiction, Mystery

I must admit, I didn't expect to much like Liquor, Poppy Z. Brite's seventh novel (and the first of hers that I've read), but I'm happy to say I was wrong. Her prose is infectious, fast-paced and catchy, full of the slang and colorful language one would expect from a couple of New Orleans chefs. The strange thing is that despite the pacy feel of the novel and the action-packed dialogue, though, not much actually happens within the space of the novel - but somehow the simplicity of the plot doesn't matter. The novel centers on two cooks, G-man and Rickey, who have featured in other works by Brite. They are friends from childhood who began as dishwashers in restaurant kitchens, and learned to cook, exciting dishes for which they share a passion.

They have a good idea for a new restaurant - basing every dish on liquor, which is bound to be popular with locals and tourists alike, and everything spirals from there. A famous chef, Lenny Duveteaux, offers them the money to start up in business, and they find premises and get started, full of excitement and passion, but the premises have a history, and it isn't an easy ride. The characters we meet in this curious underworld (including the hilariously named critic Chase Haricot) are what drives the plot, since there is relatively little structure (which is not a criticism; it works well for this kind of novel). The dishes the chefs cook up - usually a blend of unusual ingredients, mixed up with liquor, and made with passion and skill, are realistic synonyms for the world in which they live - heady, intoxicating, tasty, and quickly consumed.

Unusually, and appealingly, the things that usually matter in books - love, relationships, history, and home-life - are less important here. Brite concentrates entirely on the matter in hand - food, and restaurant life. The partnership, both business and personal, between Rickey and G-man, seems perfectly balanced, the strengths of one complementing the weaknesses of the other, and their trust and affection is perfectly portrayed. However unlike most novels, this relationship is implicit rather than explicit; Brite doesn't pander to the reader by explaining it all. Instead, it just happens, and the reader can watch and understand that this is a part of the lives the protagonists lead, rather than having monologues or passages of description explaining it to them.

Although Brite made her name with horror, she has worked in restaurants herself and is married to a chef, and clearly sees the possibilities of the enclosed and private world inhabited by people in the restaurant business. She writes lovingly of the smells and tastes and sounds of the frantic kitchens that G-man and Rickey inhabit, and it's impossible not to be drawn into their world. Once they get their own restaurant, the circle tightens and their world becomes even more focussed and intense, with sinister undercurrents like background noise as the pair deal with more responsibility than they've ever had before as their dreams begin to come true. Lenny might not be all he seems, and their drugged-up, hate-filled ex-boss is out to make their lives hell, so all they can do is remember the two rules by which they have always lived: they're in this together, and there's always alcohol. This book encompasses drugs, murder, alcohol, sex and food, not to mention the exciting prose-style, which make up a potent cocktail well worth reading.