Lush Life is the latest novel by Richard Price, a writer with several novels to his credit including Clockers, adapted into a film by Spike Lee. He also worked with Martin Scorsese, earning an
Oscar nod for penning “The Color of Money.” Those credentials were sufficient to confirm Price’s place
as an astute observer of gritty, urban life, while Lush Life has catapulted him to the status of premier
chronicler of the modern LES.
What is initially most striking about the book is how
camera-ready it reads. Price is foremost a stylist, with a knack for the sort of salty
fugues police dramas often aspire to but rarely achieve. Much of the novel
consists of dialogue, largely involving police officers and detectives, often
laced with profanity and the sort of piercing, unsentimental observations one
would expect of New York’s finest.
It is unsurprising to learn that Price was a contributing writer to “The
Wire”, the much-lauded series on HBO. Price’s story is set on the Lower East
Side, with echoes of the past that haunt this neighborhood, shape-shifting from
European Jewish immigrants, to Hispanic families, to the arty aspirants at the
heart of the story.
The novel jumpstarts with a murder
that reverberates throughout the interwoven stories that unfold and overlap
throughout the book. Vivid characters are introduced and a palpable sense of
place, the LES circa 2005, is evocatively conjured up. Lush Life commences with three male friends being mugged walking home from a
night of drinking, one of whom is shot. Detective Matty Clark commences an
investigation that initially entails the arrest of Eric Cash. Cash is an
aspiring writer and bartender at a buzzy local restaurant. It is the
inconsistencies in his account of the shooting as detailed to Clark that allow
Price an opportunity to display his singular talent at writing crisp, authentic
dialogue, both between the two men and individually as interior monologues. It
is in the process of the telling of the tale that Lush Life distinguishes itself from the plethora of police
dramas, from “NYPD Blue” to “Law & Order”.
I suggest picking up a copy of Lush Life and relish
one of the most compelling crime stories of the past few years. It’s the sort
of book that cult classics are made of. Feature films, too.