Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review- Prime by Poppy Z. Brite

Last night I finished Poppy Z. Brite's book Prime which, as you'll remember, is her follow-up to her novel Liquor. Again, with my usual lack of pun intention, I fairly devoured it. I cannot put too fine a point on this: I don't understand why more people aren't excited about one of the most exciting working authors today. At the end I found myself shaking my head thinking, "That was a fine novel. Liquor was also an excellent contemporary novel. My my."

And I am very happy to realize that I still have one more to go. I will again direct your attention to Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite on my Christmas wish list.

At first I had misgivings but now I am reluctant to even air them here. For the first two thirds of the book, I think my main concern, and I hasten to make clear that it was a very minor concern, that one of the things I liked so much about Liquor was the urgent action of the kitchen. Prime's action is often out of the kitchen or in a kitchen in a different restaurant. I like fiction where the characters have to go to work much like, you know, actual human beings have to work. Also, in Liquor especially, the characters, their relationships, personal lives and so on were present, but the narrative never made camp in those spots. I was a little nervous in the first 2/3rds of Prime that this was not so much the case in this book, but in the end it tied together so well. So masterfully well. Everything comes together beautifully. I didn't go in expecting a mystery, but it all gels in the end so delightfully surprisingly well.

The characters largely recur with a few shifts. Lenny seems to be more of a supporting character in this one. Oscar De La Cerda becomes more of a major (and awesome!) Brite also brings in a whole new world of characters, all of them amazing and none of them treated with kit gloves. In the hands of a lesser author, such precious characters would be treated as precious. With Brite, yes, they are amazing characters now that you mention it, but there's a story to tell! I salute her for that as well.

As usual, I won't give too much of the plot away. At the start of the book, Liquor, the restaurant, is two years old and doing well. They get their first bad review, although the review has almost nothing to do with the quality of the food or dining experience. Lenny gets into legal trouble with the DA who seems to have a grudge against Lenny. Rickey is hired by a restaurant in Dallas as a consultant to revamp their fine dining restaurant to suit Dallas. He runs into a very awkward character from his past and has to work with him. More awkwardness follows. Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, G-Man befriends the head of a successful hip-hop label (whose story about when he was a child eating at Escargot's and meeting the cook is one of my favorite moments in the book. Again, much like a busy kitchen, these heart-breakingly beautiful, glorious moments are there, but the pace keeps going and you can reflect on it in your own time, buddy.) All of these seemingly divergent threads come together so nicely.

The detail work is excellent as well. The boots, the thing cooks get in the hot summer months, G-Man's mom's explanation on how to cook veal in lard. There is so much more I'd like to admire here, but I do not want to spoil anything for anyone.

One thing I will say that isn't so much of a critique as an observation. I had mentioned that the novels stand on their own and are not really in "a series" so much as independent novels with some shared characters. While I stand by that, at the end of this one I do have to say I think one would enjoy this much more if they've read Liquor. Aside from that, I can say that I enjoyed it tremendously.

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