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Another fine mess

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Lush Life: A Novel - Richard Price Just got this, and zipped through the prologue before crashing out last evening, and--well, it's Price, which means it's priceless. More soon, but I've been afflicted of late by too much interference with my reading life and too many half-hearted stabs at too many half-decent books. I seem to have started thirty-seven things, and the half-eaten remains litter my side of the bed. I'm really jazzed for the Price (and, Thanksgiving on the horizon, may have the time to read more than 7 pages a day).

And just finished. First, there are bound to be reviews starting (maybe even concluding) with one complaint: this novel recalls Price's last three so very much that it may--if you're not paying attention? or maybe just not looking past the familiar--seem like a cover version of _Clockers_ and a retread of favored concerns, milieus, methods. And I'll admit: it opens sort of like a mystery, quickly drawing us a sense of the agents and targets, walking right up to a crime, then--the event itself an open question waiting for answers--we spend the next four hundred pages finding out what really went down and (Price's astonishing precise talent) watching the deep consequences of crime reveal the shape of general American and specific individual and community pathologies.

Okay, fair cop--that's those other books, too. But, damn, this is like a master class in teasing out the devastation visible behind and through one, small, meaningless act of violence. The book reads like a police procedural, taking place over a couple short weeks (plus coda), and I rushed headlong wondering what next, tension ratcheting up. But, really--what was the mystery? There was no real sense of who, or even why, done it; further, the conclusions, while nothing like pat, never really seem in doubt. Yet such mystery--each scene a revelation of character. Price is about the most observant, generous, clear-eyed chronicler of how people fuck up working in American writing today. And the suspense is the sick tense worry of how people are going to fuck up yet again, and again.

'Cause you care--deeply--about these people. Like "The Wire," for which he now writes an episode or two and which (according to its creator David Simon) owes its very existence a huge debt to Price's work on _Clockers_, we get a mass of information about how people actually work in (and against) the institutions of law enforcement, how class collisions underpin the American city. But unlike the show--which I love, which is the best damn television show ever made--Price cares a lot more about these people than the systems; drawing out a vision of the context more carefully underscores his compassionate attention to being stuck, to trying to do what you can.

But enough of content? The man can sing. At a wake for the novel's victim, one paragraph is one sentence ducking and weaving to rhythmic perfection a vision of the city: "The musicians and the mourners wended their way past the city rigs, the firemen and garbagemen impassively leaning against the cabs, then began to coil around the effigy [a ritual straw figure of the deceased] until they had created a ring of people six candles deep, the mostly ethnic locals, many with small children straddling their necks, making up an irregular seventh ring, the traffic cops just now starting to catch up once the outer blockades were lifted an even more amorphous eighth."

And so on. Really great, great book.