Synopsis: An aspiring writer and practising bartender is shot dead in a mugging gone wrong on the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It’s written by a screen-writer for The Wire – what more do you need to know?
My Take: I hadn’t even heard of Richard Price when a friend recommended “Lush Life” to me, but when a friend told me that he was a writer for the superb HBO series, The Wire, I grabbed a copy as soon as I could. Happily, “Lush Life” delivers exactly what any fan of The Wire would expect from one of its writers; a brilliantly observed, Dickensian panorama of inner city American life. This is not your average police procedural, linear crime novel – it’s a rich, detailed and wide-ranging portrait of Lower East Side New York amidst which a murder happens to occur.
The shining highlight of “Lush Life” is the absolutely brilliant dialogue. Reviews rave about Price’s mimetic gifts and pitch perfect language. In fact, The New York Times went so far as to open its review of “Lush Life” by claiming that:
“no one writes better dialogue than Richard Price—not Elmore Leonard, not David Mamet, not even David Chase.”
The New York Magazine gushes in its brilliant in character review that Price is the:
“Best writer of dialogue since Plato. Slang you never even heard of. Keep expecting the page to stand up and wander off somewheres, make a pass at your wife, order a bacon sandwich.”
It’s not just hyperbole – Price really is a virtuoso of verbal interaction. At one point in “Lush Life” Price writes a 75 page police interrogation scene that doesn’t lose momentum once; an amazing achievement.
Despite this, critics are divided as to whether the “Lush Life” constitutes a great book of substance and narrative or simply an impressive collection of scenes. I can see the concern – while the dialogue is brilliant, I wasn’t exactly clear what Price himself was trying to say through “Lush Life”. Similarly, as a result of Price’s reliance on dialogue, the book is much longer (over 400 pages) than it could have been with a bit more narration. But I’m not too fussed by this. It wasn’t so long as to be painful and Price’s prose offers delights on every page to compensate for any passing lack of direction.
Lugo rests his crossed arms on the open window as if it’s a backyard fence. “License and registration, please?”
“For real, what I do?”
“You always drive like that?” His voice almost gentle.
“Signaling lane changes, all road-courteous and shit.”
“C’mon, nobody does that unless they’re nervous about something.”
“Well I was.”
“You was following me.”
“A cab was following you?”
“Yeah, OK, a cab.” Passing over his papers. “All serious, Officer, and no disrespect intended, maybe I can learn something here, but what did I do?”
“Primary, you have neon trim on your plates.”
“Hey, I didn’t put it there. This my sister’s whip.”
“Secondary, your windows are too dark.”
“I told her about that.”
“Tertiary, you crossed a solid yellow.”
“To get around a double-parked car.”
“Quadrary, you’re sitting by a hydrant.”
” That’s ’cause you just pulled me over.”
Lugo takes a moment to assess the level of mouth he’s getting.
As a rule he is soft-spoken, leaning in to the driver’s window to conversate, to explain, his expression baggy with patience, going eye to eye as if to make sure what he’s explicating here is being digested, seemingly deaf to the obligatory sputtering, the misdemeanors of verbal abuse, but… if the driver says that one thing, goes one word over some invisible line, then without any change of expression, without any warning signs except maybe a slow straightening up, a sad/disgusted looking off, he steps back, reaches for the door handle, and the world as they knew it, is no more.