Friday, December 12, 2008

Things to Read, Drinks to Drink: The Virgin Suicides & A (Gin!) Martini

Here's another first novel for you: Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides, a seemingly straightforward novel about growing up in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Grosse Point during the financial and racial turmoil of Motor City during the 1970s. The cemetery workers are on strike, Michigan's notoriously obnoxious fish flies alighting on all surfaces, and the sheltered Lisbon girls lose their youngest sister in an ugly suicide. Things go downhill from there.

Written in 1993 and adapted for film in 1997 (Sophia Coppola's directorial debut), both the novel and the book employ a nameless "we" as the controlling narrative voice. Atypical narrative perspective can be jarring when it seems unwarranted or too overt (the second person, or, like this, the first person plural), yet Eugenides attains a plainspoken sincerity here that's hard to resist. The gravity and beauty of the author's observations—of Grosse Point, of the Lisbon family, of his/their own adolescent curiosities and needs—are more than enough to justify the chorus-like voice of the narration. That is to say that here, Eugenides is not merely employing this narration on a whim. Instead, his use of "we" as the anonymous narrative voice implicates the reader and, as such, engenders incredible empathy. The perspective combines moments of omniscience and of personal observation in a way that neither the simple first person or third person could do on their own. The result is that Eugenedies has you eating out of his hands from the first page to the last.

The original 1993 jacket of The Virgin Suicides


As long as we're talking about deceptively simple things, one would be hard-pressed to find a drink that's simpler and better than a gin martini. You've got 5 basics to consider when ordering or making this classic: the type of gin you'd like (something floral? Something savory?); whether you want it on the rocks or straight up; whether you want it dry (little vermouth) or wet (extra vermouth); whether you want it dirty (a touch cloudy and salty from a touch of added olive juice); and what type of garnish you want with it.

I've been on this kick recently, and it's made me happy: A dry Beefeater martini on the rocks with a twist of lemon.

This is what a martini on the rocks should look like prior to garnishing...


...and here's what that garnish should look like, unless, of course, you prefer an olive.

1. Toss a dash of dry vermouth into a rocks glass. Roll the glass in your hand to coat the sides with the vermouth and then pour the vermouth out. To make it dryer, give it an extra shake or two. For a wetter martini, leave a bit of vermouth in the glass before loading it up with ice.

2. Load the rocks glass with ice.

3. Pour 4 oz. of Beefeater gin over the ice.

4. Using a paring knife or zester, pull a long twist (about 3") and drop it over the top. No pigtail twists or quirky slinky-like manipulation of the twist is necessary, though it is a nice touch to cut your twist over the glass so that the mist and oil from the lemon peel hits the top of the drink and the edges of the glass.

5. Drink.

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