Liquorby Poppy Z. Brite
New Orleans natives Rickey and G-man are lifetime friends and down-and-out line cooks desperate to make a quick buck. When Rickey concocts the idea of opening a restaurant in their alcohol-loving hometown where every dish packs a spirited punch, they know they’re on their way to the bank. With some wheeling and dealing, a slew of great recipes, and a few lucky breaks, Rickey and G-man are soon on their way to opening Liquor, their very own restaurant. But ?rst they need to pacify a local crank who doesn’t want to see his neighborhood disturbed, sidestep Rickey’s deranged ex-boss, rein in their big-mouth silent partner before he runs amok, and stay afloat in a stew of corruption in a town well known for its bottom feeders.
A manic, spicy romp through the kitchens, back alleys, dive bars, and drug deals of the country’s most sublimely ridiculous city, author Poppy Z. Brite masterfully shakes equal parts ambition, scandal, ?lé powder, cocaine, and murder, and serves Liquor straight up, with a twist.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Forecast: Brite's Lost Souls was a goth favorite, and while it's hard to imagine many horror aficionados savoring her latest tack, there's enough spice here to satisfy less hardcore fans. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
“Once both cult-worshipped and mainstream-reviled for her edgy investigations into supernatural and human horror, Brite, now more concerned with the more-or-less ordinary side of life and her home turf of New Orleans, emerges as a writer of honesty and wit.”—Publishers Weekly
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By Poppy Brite
Three Rivers PressCopyright © 2004 Poppy Z. Brite
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was the kind of October day for which reasidents of New Orleans endure the summers, sparkling blue-gold with just a touch of crispness, and two old friends were sitting on a low branch of an oak tree in Audubon Park drinking liquor. They had started out with tequila shots upon waking up, but harboring a residual grudge against the drink, they soon switched to vodka and orange juice, which they carried to the park in a large thermos.
John Rickey and Gary "G-man" Stubbs had been born and raised in the city's Lower Ninth Ward, but they'd lived Uptown since they were eighteen: "From the 'hood to the ghetto," Rickey had described the move at the time. Their current neighborhood hardly qualified as a ghetto, but the remark revealed a downtown boy's discomfort at living Uptown. In the Ninth Ward, "Uptown" signified rich and snooty.
They were twenty-seven now, but only Rickey had begun to develop the comfortable little paunch common to natives past their midtwenties. The few extra pounds did not diminish his sharp-featured good looks, but he wouldn't have cared much if they had; physical vanity was not among Rickey's numerous sources of anxiety. Six months ago he had bleached his light-brown hair platinum. Now it was half split ends and half dark roots, and though it looked very bad, he hadn't yet gotten around to having the bleachy ends cut off. Since he had neglected to brush it this morning, it formed a two-toned nimbus around his head. Rickey was a young man with a great deal of nervous energy; even when he was half-drunk and trying to relax, he had a hard time sitting still.
G-man had no trouble sitting still. He was a little taller than Rickey, and quite skinny for a New Orleanian. Though he wore his chestnut-colored hair very short, a slight curl still made it unruly most of the time. His mother had been a Bonano, one of the city's vast population of Sicilian-Americans, but this heritage was reflected only in the darkness of his large, myopic eyes. Otherwise he looked like his Irish-blooded father, rangy and fair-skinned, with a long blunt nose and a rather sensitive mouth.
Like many young men in New Orleans, Rickey and G-man made a precarious living in restaurant kitchens. They'd begun in their teens as dishwashers and worked their way up to line cook positions. Now cooking comprised most of their lives; asked to define themselves in a word, they would not have given their family names or (as would many New Orleanians) the name of their high school; they would simply have said, "We're cooks." A few days ago they had been dismissed from their latest kitchen in what they considered a travesty of justice.
Jesse Honeycombe, a country-pop crooner from Florida, had one big radio hit called "Tequilatown" and opened a restaurant on the strength of it. Tequilatown was a French Quarter tourist trap that served indifferently barbecued ribs, elaborate sandwich platters, and margaritas in plastic buckets. Jesse Honeycombe wasn't exactly responsible for the firing, but that didn't matter to Rickey and G-man, who had been cursing Honeycombe's name ever since the incident went down.
Honeycombe had played a show at the Lakefront Arena that night, and fans packed the restaurant afterward in hopes that he would show up. The kitchen was slammed. Rickey was working the hot appetizer station, making loaded nacho platters and spicy chicken quesadillas. G-man, for some reason, was on salads, the most hated position in the kitchen. Everyone from the kitchen runners to the head chef was in the weeds for three solid hours. They fell into a rhythm where they weren't really thinking about the food or how many tickets were lined up; they were just moving their hands and hustling their asses and slamming out orders as fast as they possibly could. When the hellacious rush finally slowed to a trickle, Chef Jerod passed around cold bottles of Abita beer. Drinking was forbidden on the clock at Tequilatown, a restaurant with liquor in its very name, but the crew had rolled so hard tonight that the chef decided to make an exception to the rule. Of course, the manager chose that moment to drop in and see how things were going.
Chef Jerod managed to hang onto his job by the tips of his knife-scarred fingernails, but the manager made him fire almost everyone else, including Rickey and G-man. This would create no crisis; there were half-assed kitchen workers looking for jobs all over town. The hospitality industry provided New Orleans with its major source of revenue, and the city responded by providing an inexhaustible source of fodder for the industry: poor but able-bodied young men who came into the kitchens with very little training and could be easily replaced when they got fired, quit, or died. Most of these young men were black, but there was a sizable minority of white boys. Some, like Rickey and G-man, stayed in the business and became skilled cooks. A place like Tequilatown, though, didn't really need skilled cooks; it made sense to replace them with hapless kids who would work for considerably less money.
Chef Jerod had apologized to everyone as he handed out the severance pay envelopes. Though he was a hardass, he was almost weeping with humiliation. "I swear I'd quit this place myself if they weren't paying me so fucking much," he said. No one really held it against him. They knew that the manager, Brian Danton, was the real asshole. That was almost always how it was, and there was nothing you could do about managers.
So now Rickey and G-man sat in the park passing the thermos, watching the joggers and golfers, occasionally expressing mild amazement at the fact that people would expend that kind of energy when they didn't have to. This was not simple laziness-though they could be lazy with a will-but more a reflection on the sheer physical work of being a halfway-decent cook. Cooks on the line in a busy restaurant spend all their time in motion, preparing the mise-en-place of ingredients they will use throughout their shift, lining up saut pans on burners and flattops, keeping track of their tickets, burning their hands, reducing their feet to hunks of abused and stinking flesh that feel like nothing more than a couple of raw stumps by the end of a shift. Cooks don't go jogging on their day off.
Rickey and G-man had been friends since their grammar school days. The Lower Ninth Ward was a cross between a country village and a Third World slum, far below the Garden District and the French Quarter and the other parts of the city known to tourists. Most of the houses were old, small, and in disrepair; the streets were prone to sudden flooding; the air smelled of frying sausage and the nearby Industrial Canal. Rickey and G-man had Ninth Ward street smarts and the hoarse, full-throated downtown accent: "Ax ya momma can we have some'a dem cookies she bought?" They had always been vaguely aware of each other, as the few white kids in the public schools were. The first time they really took notice of each other was in fourth grade, during Job Week, when the class was assigned to pair up and put on a skit about one of their parents' occupations. Even at age nine, Rickey and G-man (then still known as Gary) recognized the thoughtless cruelty inherent in this assignment. Many of their classmates had mothers who worked at McDonald's or as hotel maids, and no fathers to speak of. It wasn't that all black people in New Orleans lived this way, but that the black people who could afford it-just like the white people who could afford it-sent their kids to the superior Catholic schools.
Rickey's father was a chiropractor who lived in California, paid minimal child support, and hadn't seen his son in three years. As a result, Rickey had a distorted idea of what chiropractors (and fathers) did. He and Gary stole a box of red hair dye from the K&B drugstore and borrowed a bunch of Play-Doh from one of Gary's young cousins. Two dowels provided the framework for a surprisingly realistic false arm with a plastic bag of dye tucked into the shoulder end. Gary folded his right arm inside his shirt and wore the false arm in a sling.
"A chiropractor is a doctor who performs adjustments on the spine," Rickey told the class before bending Gary backward and "adjusting" him, ripping off the false arm and spraying red hair dye all over the classroom. Gary howled in "pain" and collapsed dramatically on the threadbare school carpet, his legs flailing a bit before hitting the floor with a terrible, final-sounding thunk.
That was the first time they were sent to the principal's office together. They had to apologize to their teacher and explain to their classmates that doctor visits were unlikely to result in surprise dismemberments. Gary's mother, who had never known her youngest child to do such a thing before, made him go to confession and tell the priest all about it. (He thought he heard the priest stifle a laugh, but he never told his mother.) Rickey's mother, who had been something of a bon vivant in her youth, found the episode hilarious. She called up the Stubbs family to chide them for overreacting, and the two families ended up friends. To Rickey, an only child, the crowded Stubbs household was pleasantly chaotic; some of Gary's five older sisters and brothers had grown up and moved out by then, but they had kids of their own and there were always children around.
After the false-arm incident, Rickey and Gary got beaten up a lot less, because their classmates now thought they were funny, crazy, or both. More important, they recognized something in each other that had kept them together from then until now, fired and broke, sitting in an oak tree drinking liquor.
Rickey pushed his hair out of his eyes. "It's too damn bright out here," he said. "Can I borrow your extra shades?"
G-man had already been wearing glasses in the fourth grade; from his ferocious squint when he removed them, Rickey always figured he'd been one of those little kids who'd needed them since he was three or something. Now he wore dark lenses almost all the time, even in the kitchen when chefs would let him get away with it. "I don't care," said Rickey. "Just give 'em here."
G-man stretched out his long legs, reached into his pants pocket, and pulled out a slightly squashed pair of gold-rimmed, pimp-daddy-style dark glasses. He passed them to Rickey, who put them on, surveyed the park through what appeared to be several inches of murky water, and said, "Goddamn, your eyes are fucked up."
G-man had heard this before and let it pass without comment.
"This orange juice is warm," Rickey complained. "I wish I had a daiquiri."
"You want to walk over to the zoo? I think they got daiquiris in the Beer Garden."
"No, dude, it's like seven dollars to get in the zoo. You know where I wish I was, G? I wish I was in Tequilatown."
"Scratchin my balls and watchin the sun go down," G-man sang, riffing on Jesse Honeycombe's big hit.
"Pickin sea salt outta my ass crack ..."
They went on in this vein for several minutes, an extension of the dialogue they'd been having since the incident. Though they were trying to console themselves, the thing always ended up making them mad all over again. This time, Rickey went off first. "Fuck that place!" An old lady walking a Chihuahua near their tree gave him a sharp look, but he took no notice. "Fuck Jesse Honeycombe, fuck Brian Danton, and fuck Jerod Biggs too. Fuck 'em all."
"What? We're the victims of injustice. It sucks."
"This doesn't suck," G-man pointed out. "It's a beautiful day, and right now the poor bastards they hired are prepping dinner and getting ready to take it in the ass all night, and we're sitting here drinking. Tell me how that sucks."
"I'll tell you next week, when our rent's due."
"You're a real cheerer-upper, you know that?"
"Well, damn, G. We got about two hundred dollars in the bank. Favreau's not gonna give us another extension." Favreau was the landlord who rented them a shotgun cottage on the river end of Marengo Street. They were fortunate that he was a patient man; nonetheless, the mention of his name depressed them further.
The October shine had gone off the day. They rocked glumly back and forth on the tree limb. Rickey drained the last of the vodka and orange juice. "Tequilatown's a shithole. But did you ever notice how much money it's making?"
"About a hundred grand a week, I'd say."
"And the food is garbage. All Honeycombe has is a name. You know, G, we could run a better restaurant than Tequilatown."
"We could," said Rickey. "We're good cooks." He knew this was so. Right after they graduated from high school-almost ten years ago now-Rickey had even spent several months in Hyde Park, New York, at the fabled CIA, the Culinary Institute of America, hardcore training ground for chefs all over the country. He did well there until a run-in with another student resulted in his return to New Orleans, which was not an entirely unhappy thing: living up north was expensive and cold, and he was lost without G-man.
"Course we're good cooks," said G-man. "But it takes more than that. Like money."
"We might could raise some money if we had a good idea."
"Lots of people get ideas. Remember Lamar King's Bordello?" This had been a failed concept by another washed-up rock star, his claim to fame being that he had once shared a stage with Bob Dylan. He and his backers had bought a huge, decrepit building in the French Quarter, spent millions of dollars bringing it up to code and decorating it to look like a whorehouse, or what they imagined such a place to look like: lots of red velvet swags, stained glass, a grand piano. The menu had boasted items like "Pretty Baby Prime Rib" and "Aphrodisiac Oysters." The place closed its doors within a month. Rickey and G-man had passed several afternoons in various bars debating why a rock star would want to open a restaurant anyway. Rickey posited that chefs were actually cooler than rock stars, and Lamar King knew it. G-man thought King might have been around the amps too long.
Rickey was lost in thought. He held the empty thermos in his hand, staring into its shiny depths. A faint distorted reflection of his own eye winked up at him, blue and bloodshot. Lots of people get ideas, G-man had said, but how many of those ideas were good ones? More to the point, how many of those ideas were suitable for New Orleans? Plenty of would-be restaurateurs came from out of town, opened a place, watched it fail, and left cursing the city's moribund economy, punishing summers, fossilized tastes, or all of the above. Rickey was used to all that. Surely he could come up with an idea for a restaurant that would be uniquely suited to his lifelong home. He tilted the thermos and watched one last drop spill out, and that was when it came to him.
Excerpted from Liquor by Poppy Brite Copyright © 2004 by Poppy Z. Brite. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
POPPY Z. BRITE is the author of a dozen books, including Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and Exquisite Corpse. Liquor is her first book set in the restaurant world. She lives in New Orleans with her husband, Chris, a chef.
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I read this in one sitting last night, and it saved my life! Poppy is such a wonderful novelist, and I absolutely fell in love with Rickey and G-Man and the rest of the crew. You will seriously be missing out if you don't give this great book a chance! It kept me up until 3AM.
I came to this book with no knowledge of Poppy Brite's former work; only bought it because a clerk at my favorite local bookstore reccomended it so highly. Read it in one night and loved it. People who complain about the dialogue in this book have certainly never been to New Orleans and probably get their ideas about the city from movies like 'The Big Easy.' Unlike Dennis Quaid, the characters in 'Liquor' talk the way you can hear New Orleans natives talking on the street every day. I've read no novel that captured the flavor of our speech so well since 'A Confederacy of Dunces.' (Hardly surprising, since I notice 'Liquor' is dedicated to its author.) I wasn't a Brite fan before, but I am now.
As a moody teen I was raised on Poppy Z. Brite's gothic, teen-slick horror fiction of the early '90's. I loved the sprawling, menacing descriptions of Brite's shadow-drenched deep South, the references to all the cool goth bands I loved, the graphic sex scenes and all the oh-so-cool pretty-boy characters. I am not being facetious, I legitimately loved it all and still hold an affection for it; it was good writing no matter how slick it was. As a 20-something working class schlub, I thought I left Brite's writing far behind me. But 'Liquor''s brightly-colored paperback caught my eye in the bookstore one day, and I thought, 'What the hell, for old times sake, let's relive the simpler times.' Imagine my surprise to find that 'Liquor' is not only great literature, it represents a completely different writing style by Brite. The murky, depraved darkness of 'Exquisite Corpse' is replaced by a more realistic, folksy gentility-- there are some dark parts and melodramatic moments, but for the most part it's a tight narrative, it's humanistic and it can be enjoyed on some level by everyone. The gothic dreamworld of New Orleans in Early Brite Land has given way to a practical, meticulously detailed, honest but still fascinating portrayal of a real, unique American city. Once known for trendy, stand-off-ish, dark loner characters, Rickey and G-Man and the 'Liquor' ensemble (including some strong, interesting female characters, also new to Brite Land) are immediately recognizable , identifiable and likeable; layered to a degree, but not realistic. Brite herself admitted once that dialogue was not her strong suit, but you couldn't tell with 'Liquor', where there are massive exchanges of breezy, succinct, humorous barbs. I think Brite has successfully followed in the tradition of the writer of her favorite novel (and one of my favorites), 'A Confederacy of Dunces' by James Kennedy Toole. So I recommend this book for Brite fans, New Orleans fans, 'foodies' (loving descriptions of gourmet delicacies throughout), people interested in the restaurant business, people who want to fall in love with colorful characters and snappy dialogue, anyone looking for something new to read, and yes, James Kennedy Toole fans. PS> I have yet to read the book's prequel 'The Value of X', but from what I gather it's not required reading for 'Liquor' (I certainly didn't feel like I was missing out on anything).
Poppy Z. Brite¿s passion for the restaurant world shines brightly in LIQUOR, but you don't have to be a fan of food writing to appreciate her loving descriptions of gourmet meals and the careful preparation and presentation that goes into them. In fact, as I've observed on more than one occasion, Poppy¿s descriptions of food can even make meat sound appealing to a vegetarian. (I speak from personal experience.) Lest I give the wrong impression, I should point out that LIQUOR isn¿t just about food. It¿s about people--real people and real relationships. It¿s also about New Orleans, though not the New Orleans that¿s so frequently seen through the romanticized veil of Goth. Poppy's not afraid to show her hometown as it truly is, warts and all, but it's also obvious that she's fond of those warts, perhaps even moreso than the more conventionally beautiful parts of the city. If you've read THE VALUE OF X or any of Poppy¿s short stories about Rickey and G-man, reading LIQUOR will be like visiting with old friends. If not, it will be like making new ones. Either way, you¿ll be anxiously awaiting the follow-up novel, THE BIG D, which is scheduled for a Spring 2005 release.
I was lucky to score an early copy of Liquor by Poppy z. Brite this past weekend. The novel follows a young couple, John Rickey and Gary 'G-Man' Stubbs, from the hot lines at various New Orleans restaurant kitchens to opening their own, a genius spirit infused joint called Liquor, where the alcohol is not only served at the bar but in all of the dishes as well. There aren't a lot of twists and turns, but I think the plot is secondary to her character work, which in my opinion is really well done. For me the book moved like a steamroller, building momentum slowly, but once it got going it was hard to stop. Though most fans probably know Mrs. Brite for her horror novels, Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and Exquisite Corpse, it's in Liquor where she truly shines. Liquor feels a lot more personal and involved, through her descriptions of her hometown and her well-drawn characters, than her previous novels, I think because there isn¿t a genre looming over head and restricting her. I think this novel will appeal to those who enjoy Anthony Bourdain's writing or Gregory Mcdonald's Fletch series of novels, as well as anyone who has a love of good food and believable, interesting character work.
LIQUOR is one of the best novels ever written about the city of New Orleans. In the VALUE OF X, published by Subterranean Press last year and now out of print, Poppy Z introduced us to Gary and Rickey, two New Orleans teenagers who are beginning to find their two great passions in life, their love of food and their own changing relationship. In LIQUOR, Gary and Rickey have grown up... mostly. Gary is now G-Man, a nickname he earned working in the kitchens of New Orleans restaurants. They now live in uptown New Orleans and LIQUOR is the story of how they come to open their own restaurant. The characters are the most realistic portrayals of New Orleanians in a novel since CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. The dialogue is spot on. And New Orleans is, simply, New Orleans... a city of eccentricities and a city in a full on love affair with food and liquor. Gone completely is the early sensual 'purple prose' that Brite was known for, replaced with a lean stripped down style of writing that exposes us to a new sensuality. Poppy no longer needs to romanticize the city of New Orleans through adjectives. She's found a better way. The exotic nature of New Orleans is layed out to us this time through the characters, through both their passions and their simplicities. And the food... oh, the food... There's probably no other city in this country who worships food more than we New Orleanians. And every note regarding this love affair in the book rings completely true. It's not just about the wonderful descriptions of dish after dish in the book that more than once had me salivating in hunger. It's also about the way the characters, from most minor to the most central, all lead lives in which food is a defining factor of their lives. Food and liquor. And that's New Orleans... food... liquor. I'm not going to reveal details about the novel, except that it's marvelous. It takes Poppy to a whole new level. You'll fall in love with Rickey and G-Man. If you don't already love New Orleans, you'll fall in love with it. You'll be ravenously hungry time and time again as you read the book. On a side note, the Kirkus review contains a couple of mistakes. Brite is most definitely a New Orleans native. And the villian of the book is most certainly and most obviously (if you've read the book) not a chef.
I absolutely loved this book. A great setting, plot and characters. I ordering PRIME now.
A friend of mine is a big fan of Poppy Brite's work. As I do not particularly care for the horror genre, I always declined the invitation to borrow my friend's books. So, when 'Liquor' came out and I saw it in the store (and that it wasn't horror), I thought I'd give it a try. I have only one question. What's the fuss? I found this book to be surprisingly dull with characters who are not particularly personable or well drawn. The 'plot' deals with Rickey and G-Man (the former being an annoying whiner) opening their own restaurant, one which has every dish prepared with Liquor. Unfortunately, Rickey's ex-boss decides to plot revenge. But the revenge he plots (and fails to enact) is c-grade at best. The dialog is perhaps the weakest in any novel I have ever read, with lines that are so stilted at times they sound as if someone from a family named Brady should be saying them. When the restaurant opens (finally) is the only time the novel works as it injects some energy into what, up until then, had been a plodding discovery of our lead characters' character (or lack thereof). All and all, I've had my taste of Poppy Brite. I doubt I'll be back for more. There are too many excellent novels out there to waste time on a penny dreadful.