Whiskey & Ribbons

Leesa Cross-Smith's slow-burning, sensuous and heart-aching first novel, Whiskey & Ribbons, navigates the fraught--but by no means fruitless--relationship between the sexes during times of grief.

Eamon is a black Louisville, Ky., police officer killed in the line of duty. In the aftermath, his young wife, Evi, leans on Eamon's half-brother, Dalton, for support and help with her newborn son, Noah. Already close, Evi and Dalton form a romantic relationship that tests their personal boundaries and their sense of loyalty. He's also searching for his biological father--he was adopted by Eamon's family after his mother committed suicide--which further complicates family relations.

Known for her short stories, Cross-Smith (Every Kiss a War) gives Eamon, Evi and Dalton their own first-person chapters, resulting in three distinct voices playing off each other in harmony. "Women, you are sleek and gorgeous. You hold us together, you're the ribbons," Eamon says. "We're men. Dangerous only if you take us too seriously. We're the whiskey." Cross-Smith employs a finely tuned poetic sense to elaborate on this central conceit. She explores the stages of grief, desire and intimacy through subtle changes in moods, often embodied in her characters' perceptions of colors and smells and music. The main trauma in the novel--Eamon's death--is made known in the first page, yet that doesn't stop a tear-jerking climax when all the narrative measures coalesce at the end. Whiskey & Ribbons lingers in the mind like a sad, sweet song. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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