The Value of X is a prequel to Liquor, the story of G-man and Rickey as two chefs who decide to open their own restaurant in New Orleans. This novella starts with both men as kids when they meet and bond a lifelong friendship/relationship. The writing is very good and filled with tons of New Orleans flavor. You can’t help but envision the city as it was, down to the last detail. Additionally watching how the two men grow up, change, and deal with individual challenges sets up the tenor and basis for their relationship. They’re not lovey dovey kind of guys but they have a rock solid bond that can’t be broken, though it can be tested.
I quite liked Liquor, which I read first, so it’s a nice change to see how G-man and Rickey came to be. The story offers a very realistic and believable look into how two boys grow up very close together to the point of worrying their parents. Here the story includes some religious elements – Gary’s mother in particular is very religious – yet this doesn’t have the doom and gloom of religious fervor that other books in this genre offer. Instead it feels honest and authentic, as do the various reactions of the parents. Nothing feels manipulated or overdone but instead a nice subtly to the plot that fits well with the character development.
The background of New Orleans is really one of the best things about Brite’s books. Fans of hers know that she’s intimate with the city and that translates incredibly well in the books. There’s a level of detail and knowledge that only someone who lives in New Orleans can have and that permeates the book everywhere. From the various jobs to the neighborhoods, the city attitudes, the religions and bias, the book lives and breathes the city in a way that’s almost never found in books. New Orleans is its own fabulous character and the one you fall in love with the most.
Of course Gary and Rickey are no slouches either and the coming of age story about their relationship is well depicted. It’s not cheesy but instead has a definite masculine feel that brings the characters to life with incredible depth and complexity. These two men never cease to grow and change and if there is any complaint it’s that both are a little too self aware at such a young age. Not in regards to their sexuality per se but in regards to their respective cooking careers. In some ways Gary is incredibly mature and insightful about his ambition, or lack there of, which seems a bit advance for his age. This however, is a minor complaint and doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the novella.
Overall this is an easy and very enjoyable story to read. It’s one I’ll definitely re-read in the future and can easily recommend it.