Friday, December 2, 2011

Review: Whiskey Heart

Read 11/23/11 - 11/30/11
4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended
Pgs: 208
Publisher: New Rivers Press

Everyone likes to have a good, stiff drink now and again. Something to help take the edge off. Something to help you forget. Right?

But how long till that one glass turns into two? And two turns into three? And three becomes... wha.. where am I.. Is that the floor my cheek is stuck to.. Am I under the table.. How the fuck did I end up under the table.. How many drinks have I had?! Bartender, hit me with another... I'm starting to remember!

C'mon.. admit it. You've been there, or somewhere like there, once or twice before. There's no use lying about it. I know.. oh god, do I know! It's a horrible feeling when you find yourself there, but man did it feel good getting there, right? Am I right?!

We love to love the drink, don't we? We love the way it gives us wings, makes us feel empowered, blurs the edges enough to make letting go a little easier... But no one (or, at least, no one I've ever met), loves the way it tears their family apart. No one loves the way it changes their father into a shadow-man, or turns their sister into a forgetful mess, or their brother into a violent man, or accelerates their closest cousin into a depressed, ticking time bomb. Perhaps worse than all of that is the belief that the drink won't do any of that to them. No way. Yet, it's got to start somewhere. And so it always begins with just... one... drink...

In Whiskey Heart, Rachel Coyne cleverly demonstrates just how deep the drink can cut you.

We meet Kat, who left her family behind many years ago, as she suddenly becomes aware of the fact that she is in her car, driving back home for some unknown reason. She managed to stay away for her father's funeral - a drunk who stashed so many bottles of booze in and around the house that she is still uncovering them many years after his death - and her beloved cousin Tea's funeral - who used booze as a way to hide from her inability to love and died a fittingly mysterious death that reeked of alcohol abuse.

Upon her return, still numb from the loss of her cousin, she discovers a shell of the family she had left behind. Her mother is cold and distant, her older sister Abra has found Jesus, her younger sister Pearl is a sloppy drunk who seems to forget she is the mother of young Blue (an extremely odd yet forgiving little boy), and her two brothers - who come with tons of baggage of their own - all appear hesitant to welcome her back yet seem to need her to hold them all together.

 As she attempts to deal with their issues and her own overwhelming feelings of abandonment, anger, and grief over Tea's death, Kat retreats to the attic where Tea lived out the last few months of her life, in an effort to pack up and distribute all of her old belongings. Doing so brings back a wave of memories and stories that she is not prepared to deal with, and soon... Kat - already on the brink of depression - slowly finds herself slipping into alcohol's familiar, warm embrace.

Coyne spares us all the flowery details, driving right into the heart of things. She torments her characters, suffers them real emotions and pays them out real consequences. The writing is honest and ugly and forces you to accept these people - Kat, Momma, Pearl, etc... - for who they really are. She makes no apologies for them, which was a breath of fresh air for me. And when all is said and done, Coyne refuses to tie a nice, neat little bow on things. She lets everything hang... unfinished... yet leaves the reader feeling satisfied nonetheless.

Many of the events in the book are foreshadowed, which builds up this wonderfully tense anticipation. Coyne also creates a heavy air of inevitability and acceptance, and sometimes even resignation, in both her characters and in me, the reader.

The only thing that stopped me from giving it the full 5 Star "Next Best Book" treatment were the editing errors. A small, but obvious, thing that distracted from the story from time to time. That might sound funny coming from me -since I am constantly making grammatical faux pas - but there you have it.

A 2009 release from New Rivers Press, I am sure this little gem slipped under many of your radars. Go. Buy. Now. And come back to thank me later.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful review! I'm glad you enjoyed the read.
    Happy holidays!
    Jenna, New Rivers Press Intern