Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Book: Bender

Liquor: A Novel by Poppy Z. Brite, Three Rivers Press, 2004

Blame the Monkey King for this one. Or rather, blame his tendency to maintain the best Friends List on the LiveJournal. He's always tinkering with his list, adding and subtracting people, and his close circle overlaps my close circle, so instead of having to maintain a friends list, I just use his. And where he reaches out and picks up new voices, I find them interesting enough to follow myself.

Case in point - Poppy Z. Brite. The Monkey King put her on his friends list, and I started catching up with her life, in particular with her recent novel Liquor. Now, I've never been a fan of her earlier, more genre material. Cheerfully dark cannibals and mass murderers were her early themes, and she was very popular with the Vampire: The Masquerade crowd. So I would have missed this book entirely if not for the Monkey King.

Which would have been a pity, since it is a wonderful change of direction, and aimed squarely at one of the niches I happen to be inhabiting at the moment - the Foodies. People who watch Food Network and America's Test Kitchen and actually use the recipes in Alton Brown's cookbooks. Ms. Brite has written a Foodies book, and she brings the same level of detail and interest to it that she brought to her earlier works.

Here's the brief. Rickey and G-Man are characters from Brite's earlier stories, but they are line cooks who have worked in a number of New Orleans restaurants. Rickey is the driven idea man, G-Man the more easy-going, moral center of the pair. The two cook and drink, and Ricky comes up with a killer idea - a restaurant where all the meals are made with alcohol. Liquor is the name of the restaurant and the book is the story of making the dream real. The boys are helped by an Emeril/Nixon melding of an older restaurateur, and hindered by a number of crisis large and small, the largest being Rickey's old boss, who makes a descent into madness fixating on Rickey's success.

It's all interesting and engaging, and it feels like a set-up book for more to come (indeed, the next book, Prime is already out. The food porn is here, taking you into the kitchen. And New Orleans is here too, though not the New Orleans of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras and Anne Rice. This New Orleans felt like, well, Pittsburgh to me - working class, industrious, and bit run down and always seeking a better deal. It was an interesting change-up for me.

So Poppy Brite is currently in two worlds - a new one as a mainstream novelist, watched by the ghosts of her old world. Speaking as someone who may make the same journey someday, I will be following her career with great interest.

More later,