Every book should conclude, and be discussed with, a drink.
Maybe it’s something I’ve only just noticed, but almost every work of literature usually finds a way to tie in some form of alcoholic drink, and more often than not it seems to stand in for the work as a whole. I recently read Heliopolis, which takes place erratically among Sao Paulo’s upper and lower classes. The characters in the book revisit again and again a lush-sounding Brazilian cocktail, whose name escapes me now. Hygiene and the Assassin, my current reading project (I gave up on Rondo), features a brilliant but misanthropic and hugely obese French author who continuously guzzles, or brings the conversation back to, Brandy Alexanders.
I’m never had a Brandy Alexander — in fact, I didn’t know it was a drink until I started reading this book. And yet I find myself following along, smiling at the the fictional author’s dialogue, and wishing I was nursing a cocktail I didn’t know existed moments before. A little research has revealed that a Brandy Alexander is a mix of brandy, dark crème de cacao, heavy cream, and nutmeg… exactly the indulgent, fatty sort of drink the main character would represent himself by.
Hemingway did the same thing with grappa in A Farewell to Arms — the protagonist was often clouded in a grappa fog, and it was of course unsurprising to learn that grappa is a potent, Italian pseudo-wine. When my roommate was sent a bottle as a birthday gift from his parents, soon after I’d finished the book, it seemed fortuitous and we had a toast. I downed a shot and thought of Hemingway. And, appropriately, tumbled into tipsiness on short order.
The more I think about it, the more books I can think of that associated themselves with one or another drink. A Handmaid’s Tale was dry as a Mormon wedding — at least for the main character — but that made sense with the book as a whole. Deliverance was cheap cans of beer, the manly, woodsy beverage of choice.
It makes absolute sense that literature and drinking would be so intimately connected. Stories need to go places, and I bet the number of drunken first kisses in the world between a pair rival the number of sober ones. We’re a little too constrained, too wise without a drink in us. How else would we spill secrets, initiate an awkward romance, confront an offending party? If literature had no drinking, there would be a lot of exasperatingly inactive characters. “KISS HER!” We’d scream, but Character X would just stand there until things got weird, and then walk away. Fictional people need courage too.
So! At the conclusion of Hygiene and the Assassin, I will find a Brandy Alexander to toast to all the characters, fictional and non, moving their lives forward with a tipsy confession or action. And to all those who are brave enough to do so without a cocktail. And to finally knowing what this song is about: