"Cross-Smith's thrilling debut novel, Whiskey and Ribbons, is as immediate and compelling as music. Her three lovers tell their stories, each turning over what we think we know, creating a moving triptych on love, desire, and grief, and the unexpected families life makes for us."
—Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night
"Whiskey & Ribbons has always felt like music to me, like a song," Leesa says. "I decided to write it as a fugue after years of wrestling with the structure. There are songs like 'Chained and Bound' by Otis Redding and ‘One More Night’ by Phil Collins that I can’t untangle from the characters, these moments. Evangeline is a ballerina, Eamon loves 80s power ballads, Dalton is a pianist; all the songs and all that music made sense to me, my heart, my ears…and helped me write their story, to make it sing."
If Leesa Cross-Smith's debut novel was an album instead of a book, we'd like to think it would sound something like the playlist below. Leesa curated a few pieces of mood music to listen while you read, and many of the songs have been attached to the characters in the novel for a long time.
Set in contemporary Louisville, Leesa Cross-Smith’s mesmerizing first novel surrounding the death of a police officer is a requiem for marriage, friendship and family, from an author Roxane Gay has called “a consummate storyteller.”
Evi—a classically-trained ballerina—was nine months pregnant when her husband Eamon was killed in the line of duty on a steamy morning in July. Now, it is winter, and Eamon's adopted brother Dalton has moved in to help her raise six-month-old Noah.
Whiskey & Ribbons is told in three intertwining, melodic voices: Evi in present day, as she’s snowed in with Dalton during a freak blizzard; Eamon before his murder, as he prepares for impending fatherhood and grapples with the danger of his profession; and Dalton, as he struggles to make sense of his life next to Eamon’s, and as he decides to track down the biological father he’s never known.
In the vein of Jojo Moyes’ After You, Whiskey & Ribbons explores the life that continues beyond loss, with a complicated brotherly dynamic reminiscent of Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys. It’s a meditation on grief, hope, motherhood, brotherhood and surrogate fatherhood. Above all, it’s a novel about what it means – and whether it’s possible – to heal.
"Leesa Cross-Smith's Whiskey & Ribbons is an unforgettable debut. The death of a police officer is at the heart of this powerful, moving polyphonic saga, and the stunning lyricism of the style only matches the heartbreaking poetry of its substance. Cross-Smith examines lovers, brothers, mothers, fathers and sons with such mammoth empathy that this is one of those books I find essential for making sense of our world today. —Porochista Khakpour, author of the novels Sons & Other Flammable Objects and The Last Illusion
"Whiskey & Ribbons is the kind of book you cancel everything to curl up with. Don’t even try to put it down; you won’t be able to. Leesa Cross-Smith writes with an open heart and a deft touch, crafting a beautiful meditation on marriage, family, and the hope within loss. I fell in love with these characters. I joined them in their heartbreak, their lust, their yearning, and I missed them after the last page." —Lindsay Hunter, author of Eat Only When You're Hungry
"Beautiful and brutal, a gut-punch and a poem--I love this book. I love its characters, their complicated tangle of desire and grief. I love its craft, the back and forth dance between memory and possibility. I found myself talking aloud to Evangeline: Let go, I whispered. Or maybe she whispered it to me. I don't know. She's inside of me now, my head and my heart. I'll tell you what: Cross-Smith is a master." — Megan Stielstra, author of The Wrong Way to Save Your Life
"In Whiskey & Ribbons, Leesa Cross Smith has given us a story of decent, ardent-hearted friends thrust into an unimaginable situation, and its survivors respond with equally surprising grace to impossibly difficult circumstances. Here is a slim, elegant novel that is brilliantly defiant in what it refuses to mention, and clear-eyed in its focus on something we all need more of: a close look at good people navigating unthinkable tragedy." —Bonnie Nadzam, author of Lions: A Novel