Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lush Life: A Book Review

I first heard about Richard Price’s latest book Lush Life on NPR over a year ago. After trying to get my hands on it at the local Brooklyn library a few times I gave up, but last week I finally got a copy and read it…and I’m a little disappointed. It’s not that I think it’s a bad book, its just that I love The Wire and I lived in the Lower East Side which is where the events in the book take place so maybe my expectations were a little too high. The book revolves around the murder of a young privileged white man by a couple of project kids on Eldridge St.(i lived on that street)and the ongoing police investigation and public outcry that follows. The story arc is definitely similar to The Wire in that it provides the perspective of all the involved players including the murder police, the victim’s family, the shooter, and those with the victim while he was murdered. It also made me think of characters in the book as versions of characters in “The Wire”. Yolanda reminds me of Kimya, Matty reminds me of McNulty, the Lower East Side fills in as Baltimore, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, I like the characters in The Wire way better than the similar characters in Lush Life. Everyone in the book seems to live bleak unfulfilled dystopian lives where booze, unfulfilled relationships, disappointment, and hatred are typical constants that completely control their lives. The only character in the book that I can relate to is Ike Marcus…and he is murdered in the first couple of chapters!

"You know the thing I loved about Ike the most? He was a good kid and all, but the best thing about him was that he always seemed so ready. Does that even make sense?"
"Sure," Matty said.
"And the, the irony is, Billy always kicked himself for having to leave Ike behind, but the truth of the matter? That kid turned out good to go. A big heart and happy. A lot happier than either of his parents."
Minette hoisted her bag to her shoulder and wiped her eyes. "It just works out that way sometimes, you know?
A moment after she left, Yolanda murmured to her computer screen, "If the kid had been a little less 'ready', he might still be alive, you know what I'm saying?"


Mr. Price is truly a master of dialogue and setting and his use of language and the Lower East Side as vehicles to tell his story were brilliant.
A few examples below.

"Let me tell you something. This right here isn't about researching your next role. Its a job. In face, were paying you. And I'm gonna tell you something else. It's proactive. Customers don't come to a bar for the drinks, they come for the bartender. Any bartender worth a shit knows this, but you, you stand there, got a one-word answer for everything: huh, uh, duh, yes, no, maybe. You make people feel like losers, like they're your punishment from a jealous God or something. I swear, Cleveland?" Nodding to the Rastahead at the far end now. "The guy makes a martini like he's got hooks for hands, but he's twice the bartender you are because he works it. Everybody's a regular with that guy, and he never stops moving, never comes off like this gig is some demeaning station of the cross on his way to the Obies. I mean, watching the two of you back here tonite? Its like a blur and a boulder. And to be honest, right now even with the traffic the way it is, I'd rather cash you out on the spot, have him work a solo, or draft one of the waiters or even come back there myself than let you pull this "I'd rather be in rehearsals' crap ten more minutes, you hear me?"

“You know why this isn’t too bad a place? The kids are so close to all walks of life around here, you know? Most projects are kind of like, that’s all they know, but you go two blocks in any direction from here, you got Wall Street, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, they’re like release valves, you know? They give you the confidence to mix it up in the world—”

“And jux everybody in sight,” Iacone murmured.



I also loved taking the fictional places mentioned in the book and guessing which real world places they were based on. I think that Beekmans Cafe is Schiller's(on the book cover), the no name speakeasy is Milk and Honey, the cop hangout bar Chinaman's Chance is the Delancey? Are there any more? All in all I think this is a book that should definitely be read for the descriptions of the Lower East Side and the dialogue alone if not for the actual story and interactions among the characters.

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