5 Stars, Poppy Z. Brite, Subterranean Press

D*U*C*K (Rickey & G-man #5) by Poppy Z. Brite

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina put the Crescent City on the world stage, a horrifying and profoundly decimated stage that touched a nerve in the consciousness of anyone who had either witnessed the destruction firsthand or who sat safely in front of the television, thousands of miles away, and mourned for the unspeakable loss and punishing aftermath.

D*U*C*K is Poppy Z. Brite’s love letter to not only New Orleans but to Rickey and G-man and all the other wonderful and colorful characters that have populated this series. Bad things happen to good people every day, but only in the world of fiction can one nightmarish thing be made never to exist, and that’s what “DocBrite” has done in homage to this unique city.

Of all the places hit hardest by Katrina, nowhere suffered more than the Lower Ninth Ward, Rickey and G-man’s childhood home, the place where they met, became friends, and eventually fell in love. But with the force of words stronger than any hurricane wind, Katrina never was. Poppy Z. Brite spared New Orleans from the crushing devastation, and subsequently gifted John Rickey and Gary Stubbs with the continuity of the hopes, dreams, and their reality that otherwise would’ve been stripped away from them. The levees never failed, the Superdome never became the scene of shocking and tragic loss, people never stood on rooftops begging to be rescued, the streets were never flooded by either water or the human flotsam and jetsam left in the storm’s wake. No, the only storms in this story are the ones of Rickey’s own making, and as he always has, he weathers them alongside the man who has been his anchor and his touchstone for more than twenty years.

There isn’t much that can be said about this book that hasn’t already been said about the previous four in this series. This is Rickey and G-man, their trials and triumphs and their unwavering loyalty to their home. There’s an immense sense of nostalgia to the narrative, which is portrayed as the love of the city from her native sons, though, in fact, we know that that sense of reminiscence is coming from an author who watched a city fall and has now witnessed the pride and spirit of its people rise from the storm waters again.

D*U*C*K can be found in print format at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It can be purchased in electronic format, paired with The Value of X in the book Second Line HERE.

4 Stars, Poppy Z. Brite, Subterranean Press

The Value of X by Poppy Z. Brite

I think I’ve found a new obsession and their names are Rickey and G-Man. Actually, her name is Poppy Z. Brite, so yeah, she made me love these boys; I’ll give credit where credit is due, but Rickey and G-Man are the reason I’ll keep coming back for more until there is no more left to come back for.

The Value of X is the beginning of their story together, and it’s not an easy start. How can it be when neither of the boys is old enough to have any say-so in what goes on in their lives? They’ve been best friends since the fourth grade, but somewhere about the time their hormones kicked into “from zero to sixty in two-point-two seconds” gear, they come to the undeniable conclusion they wanted to be way more than besties, and their struggle to discover if the other felt the same was a big part of the draw for me.

It’s also at about that same time that Rickey’s and Gary’s parents, (their moms and Rickey’s dad, at least; Gary’s dad mostly just goes with the flow.) come to the conclusion their boys’ feelings for each other don’t fit into the find a nice girl, get married, and make babies blueprint, so they come up with a plan to keep the boys apart after high school graduation, thinking that distance will “cure” them of their feelings for each other. Go ahead and groan at this part; I did. The saddest thing about the plot, though, is that it almost worked, and that made my heart clench for the better part of the book.

Rickey’s love affair with food and plans for his future guarantee he’s going to go along with his parents’ plan to send him to culinary school in New York State, which is a hell of a long way from the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. For Rickey and Gary, it may as well have been in another galaxy far, far away. These boys are kids from families with no disposable income, which means no spontaneous trips home for Rickey during the school year. The story is set in the early ‘90s, so they don’t even have the luxury of cell phones and video messaging. They are as separated as two eighteen year old boys could’ve possibly been at that time, and the letters they write to each other become increasingly distant as well, until they cease altogether.

This book is filled with all the urgency and angst of first love, and the promises that are made with the innocent faith that those vows will be easy to keep. But the reality of it is that promises are easily made and sometimes are just as easily broken even though the intention was never there to do so. Rickey and Gary persevere, though, in spite of temptation, in spite of the drugs and alcohol they turn to, to cope with the hurt and anger and desperation they feel. One of the many things I love about these characters is that they are perfectly imperfect. They aren’t the stuff born of fantasy; they’re real and flawed. They don’t have six-pack abs or trendy clothes or look as though they belong on the cover of a magazine. They make mistakes and really questionable decisions, but they learn. The most important part is that they learn, in the end, what they truly mean to each other, so I’ll read on and see what’ll happen next for them. I’m looking forward to finding out.

*The Value of X can be found in hardcover from the major e-tailers. To purchase it in electronic format, it can be found in the book Second Line, which pairs it with the fifth book in the series.*