Monday, February 15, 2010

Lush Life

by Richard Price

Price was one of those authors I was aware of, but never particularly interested in, mostly because I thought he wrote mystery and crime genre novels. When I became aware that he wrote for The Wire (greatest TV show ever), I became more interested in trying out his fiction. Then, when the New Yorker published an excerpt of this book when it first came out, I knew I was interested.

Lush Life is a genre police procedural, but is so elevated in its approach and execution, that it is unfair to make a statement like that. The book is concerned with a very run of the mill robbery turned murder. The criminals involved are just dumb project kids, and there is no mystery for the reader to puzzle through.

Ike Marcus is out drinking with a friend and a guy he works with (Eric Cash), when the trio is robbed. Tristan, an abused and beaten-down Dominican shoots Ike by accident. When the cops roll up, Cash looks and seems guilty. Matty and Yolanda, the detectives assigned to the case like Cash for the crime, and they push him hard.

From this point, the case unravels out of Matty's control. The rest of the novel is a study in how the police operate in this type of situation, as Matty has to fight off interference from his bosses, babysit Matty's father, whose grief causes him to behave very strangely, and shuffle his way towards closing the file.

What makes this book so amazing though is the way in which Price uses this simple collision of under-class New York with its gentrifying, artistic side, to paint a vivid portrait of the Lower East Side. The book is quite sprawling, within a small radius, and takes in the upscale restaurant where Cash works, the Lemlich Projects where Tristan lives, and the police precinct house.

The book may rub up against some cliches at times, but it does so knowingly. Price's prose is simple and unadorned, but not in the self-conscious way of much crime fiction. Things in this book just feel natural, as characters battle with their guilt and just try to get by.

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