No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, March 27, 2006

#28: The Value of X -- Poppy Z Brite

I enjoyed Liquor very much, and when I found out that Brite had written the backstory, the tale of how Rickey and G-Man got together in the first place, I decided to indulge. Am glad I did.

This is a difficult novel to classify. It's a love story where both the protagonists are male, but it doesn't have much, if anything, to do with the gay scene. I don't think either Rickey or G-Man (who's still 'Gary' for most of the novel) define themselves as gay: they just happen to love one another. They're different enough for there to be some tension: Rickey's unswerving confidence and energy against Gary's peaceful nature and his Catholic upbringing. Rickey wishes there was a map of how to fall in love with your best friend and not mess it up. Gary wishes the two of them could get a house together, just a one-bedroom place ...

The Value of X isn't the kind of romance (heterosexual or homosexual) which ends with the happy couple getting together. This is a novel about staying together, and about the obstacles in their way. There are all the usual problems of a teenage romance (except the risk of pregnancy): lack of privacy, inexperience, predatory older men, parental disapproval. Gary's parents aren't at all keen on the relationship -- his mother wonders aloud whether she can love a gay son -- and, with the help of Rickey's mother and his estranged father, try to break them up.

There are other problems, too, unique to same-sex couples: queer-bashing frat boys, public disapproval (they're both working-class lads), the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality. Brite doesn't moralise, or glamorise. There's a prosaic credibility to her account of how Rickey and Gary deal with everything that's thrown at them, and meanwhile manage to kick-start careers at the cheap and greasy end of the restaurant business.

I've been thinking about how this compares to some of the better slash fiction I've read online. Would The Value of X interest me as much if it featured a heterosexual couple? (Probably not, but part of that's overkill: there's a lot, an overwhelming amount, of het romance on the shelves.) Is this just slash featuring original characters? (It's much less focussed on sex than a lot of slash is: the sex isn't even mentioned except when it's germane to the plot.) Would there be a market for it if Brite hadn't already established these characters, and their relationship, in Liquor? (Now that I don't know ...)


  1. How did you find the book? :) I've been dying to read it but I can' find it.

  2. @ Viv -- Amazon! Though you might be able to find a copy cheaper on Abebooks or similar. Unfortunately most of Poppy Brite's books seem to be out of print and hard to find.