Words In: Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite

I’ve long been familiar with Brite’s horror genre work of the 1990s, but more recently have heard good things about Liquor and its sequels. This series concerns a couple of New Orleans boys (Ricky and G-Man) who dream of making the leap from restaurant cooks to restaurant owners, rough-edged, hard-drinking guys with a lot of attitude, sort of a fictional counterpart to Anthony Bourdain’s popular memoir Kitchen Confidential. The idea always sounded fun to me… and it is. Engaging, easy to read, and full of attitude and energy.

Brite is (or was at the time she started this series) in a relationship with an up-and-coming chef. One noteworthy element of Liquor is the believability of the insider’s point of view on the world of the restaurant chef. The “behind the scenes” aspect feels realistic, intimately detailed, and gives an idea of the weird mix of aspects inherent in the world of the chef: Rock star glamor on one hand, and on the other a gritty blue-collar kind of toil filled with sweat, burns, blisters and backache.

Liquor cover

I enjoyed the New Orleans atmosphere, and found Brite’s writing straightforward and clear. The “restaurant insider” stuff, as mentioned, is fascinating as well. The real draw to these books is the characters, not only Ricky and G-Man (lifelong best friends, roommates, and also lovers, though within the story they’re just starting to be more open with everyone about this latter aspect) but also their friends, cohorts, business collaborators, and the various nut jobs and assholes who provide obstacles along the way.

It’s easy to see why Brite gained so many devoted readers with this series, and also why her long-time readership mostly didn’t seem to mind this giant leap in style and subject matter from her early goth-weird-horror work. This is well-crafted fiction of the sort most readers will find enjoyable, perhaps a 4-star rating out of 5. Those with an interest in the restaurant business, the art of cuisine, or New Orleans as a setting should find even more to like, and rate it more highly.

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