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Netty likes Liquor. Well, no surprises there …

October 13, 2009

Cuisine is the new black. You can’t step out your front door these days without tripping over a hot new restaurant, a happening new chef, a smash-hit culinary TV show. And whilst yours truly is more likely to drool over a bowl of two-minute cheesy noodles (yeah, I’ve always been a white-trash foodie) than braised cumquat in ricotta couscous, even I spend more time than I would like to admit watching the Food Channel (Iron Chef America, natch).

So, American writer Poppy Z. Brite, better known for her forays into the goth-horror genre, may well have tapped into the zeitgeist slightly before the game with the 2004 release of Liquor, the second of her four novels to date to feature the Rickey and G-Man characters (they are first introduced in 2002’s The Value Of X).

As the novel opens, late-twentysomethings John Rickey (just known by his surname) and Gary Stubbs (G-Man) are sitting in a park in their home town of New Orleans drinking vodka and OJ and musing about their circumstances after being fired from their positions as line cooks. A drunken Rickey starts  to ruminate on his desire to open his own restaurant called Liquor, with a menu entirely encompassing food sodden in alcohol in one way or another, which sets in train the novel’s plot.

What follows is a hearty, fast-paced romp through the next 300-odd pages. I fully agree with Andy that Liquor is not a dazzling work of literature, but it is an immensely enjoyable cracker of a tale, with great, finely-drawn characterisation (in addition to the protagonists, there is also, most memorably, the pair’s mentor Lenny Duveteaux and Rickey’s former boss and nemesis Mike Mouton), if a somewhat predictable plot, which nonetheless did not detract one iota from my overall appreciation of the book.

My forays into reading these days are mostly split between the oft-weighty tomes of the Reading Challenge (as Andy says,  it’s a Challenge – it’s not meant to be a doddle in the park) and the offerings of my book group the Skankies, which lately tend to be skewed towards depressing post-apocalyptic material. So it was an absolute joy to be thrown into such a light (and that is not an insult by any stretch of the imagination) and lightning-quick read. In fact, I have not enjoyed a book this much since Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies (Reading Challenge, November 2008 – feel free to visit our archives).

Brite writes about the restaurant trade with much ease and knowledge, unsurprising as she has long been married to chef Chris DeBarr, as she also does about her native New Orleans. And extra kudos to the author for her deft handling of the relationship between Rickey and G-Man – as realistic (OK, maybe except for the monogamous bit) a rendering of a gay relationship as I have seen in the fictional medium since the television drama Six Feet Under.

Four chefs hats from me for Liquor, and I will definitely be reading my way through the following installments of the Rickey and G-Man story. And now I’m off to the kitchen. A block of gruyere and a bottle of sauv blanc are calling out to me …

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