Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Lush Life

Okay, so you’ve seen The Wire, or The Night Of, or both, right? If you haven’t, don’t admit that to anyone, and then binge watch them once it gets too cold to do outside stuff. Both programs are excellent, and the writing is impressive. We have Richard Price, among others, to thank.

After reading Lush Life*, Price’s bestselling 2008 novel, I think Price should stick to screenplays. This book gives us a murder, and then shows us what it’s like for all of those involved (the police, the witnesses, the grieving family, the murderer, etc.). It’s important to note that for the most part, Lush Life is not a who-done-it thriller. If you’re hoping for that, you have the wrong book. There’s very little ambiguity, unlike with Naz in The Night Of when, as an audience member, you’re constantly trying to mesh fact with feeling. Team Naz-didn’t-do-it all day.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any gray areas. It’s a straightforward crime with police proceedings that are anything but straightforward. What do you do with the evidence that you have, and how do you get your hands on additional evidence? The characters are complex, and most of them are shady as shit. If they are shady, it’s usually as a result of some intricate past that makes readers go hmmm, they’re shady, but I empathize. The bad guys do bad stuff, but they’re not the human embodiment of evil. This is obviously more difficult for a writer to pull off than the stark black and white alternative, so props.

Furthermore, Price’s dialogue is unreal. I could read pages and pages of it. He pulls off nuances that subtly reflect the person’s character, and he maintains a realistic pace. The only exception to this is when his words read too much like insider’s knowledge. The story is set in NYC, and there’s too many slick back and forth innuendos between cops. I had a difficult time figuring out what they were discussing and where they were referring to, and I live in this city. Are all NYC cops on top of their witty-banter game 24/7? If you’re into the lingo, you’ll probably like it more; for me, it feels contrived.

Earlier I said that I could read pages and pages of his dialogue. I exaggerated. Sue me. This book is 450 pages, and I would have been much more satisfied with half of that. The actual narrative only spans ten days, which means there’s 45 pages dedicated to each day. *Math*. It’s not strictly divided in this way, but come on. This kind of painstakingly detailed writing is more appreciated on-screen. I’m not against lengthy books, but the payoff needs to be greater.

And that was probably the worst thing about this novel—no lingering factor. Lingering factor: thoughts/feelings that continue to gnaw at you and beg to be contemplated once you’re done reading. I invested quite a bit of time in this book, and a week later, as I’m writing this review, nothing really stands out. Despite the complex characters, there is no significant lurking sense of injustice, sadness, happiness, fulfillment, etc. I read it, thought it was fine, and that was that. If books are a dialogue between authors and characters and readers (tri-alogue?), this conversation was short. As such, I give Lush Life 2 out of 5 camel humps.

*Price, Richard. Lush Life. New York: Picador, 2008. Print.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Modern Romance

            Aziz Ansari: actor, comedian, and…bestselling author? I liked Aziz’s character in Parks and Recreation, but I never though *wow, this Tom Haverford douche bag is really smart and articulate*. Then, I watched Master of None. Game. Changer. Aziz is funny, creative, entertaining, and totally relatable. I had a lot of respect for him after that, so when I took Modern Romance* from my boyfriend’s bookshelf, I expected good things. Also, I wanted to see if my boyfriend had underlined anything, innocuous or otherwise, because this book is obviously about romance, and I’m a nosy bitch. No underlines, but I’m sure if there had been a sentence saying, “I love my girlfriend immensely, and she is perfect and pretty and cool”, he would have.
            Master of None gets the ball rolling when it comes to Aziz-based relationship discussions. Modern Romance is a full-on exploration of what it’s like to date and be single in a technologically fueled society. Aziz teamed with renowned sociologist, Eric Klinenberg to back his assertions with studies and stats. He cites multiple experts in their respective fields, and includes some useful graphs to help readers understand how the relationships landscape has changed in the past decade. He repeatedly references social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, which is cool for me—Haidt was my Introduction to Psychology professor at UVA, and his work/teaching style is one of the reasons why I chose to major in Psych. 
            Overall, I am very impressed with Aziz’s ability to balance his humorous tone with a genuine effort to inform readers. His work is grounded in interesting facts, but he highlights the data in comedic ways and explains things in layman’s terms. He’s also refreshingly honest about his own love life, in a way that effectively steers the narrative of the book. For example, he includes some of his text exchanges and talks about when he’s been rejected. 
            Sometimes, sociology can seem a little *no duh*-y. After all, it’s the study of human society, so some of the more obvious claims might already be palpably felt. That being said, Aziz has some seriously hot takes. For example, he talks about a newly recognized phase of life called “emerging adulthood”. The period spans between 18 and 25 years of age; it involves heady stuff like finding yourself, creating a unique identity, figuring out what the hell you want to do with your life, etc. I just turned 26 and I’m definitely still emerging, so I’d appreciate if they could give a girl a break and extend the age range. Anyway, this period of time is unique to our generation, and it’s led to singles being much more selective about who they want to date. Marriage used to be an economic institution intended to cement social status and keep that bloodline pumping. Today, marriage is more about finding your perfect soul mate, which puts a lot of pressure on the process of dating and searching for the one and only. Now that we have access to so many potential mates via dating apps, our pool of options is pretty massive. Is this a good thing, or does it make the process all the more stressful?
            One (of many) things I really like about Aziz is that he’s very sensitive to gender. I don’t get offended easily, and I’m not one to go up in arms about PC-this and PC-that; BUT, Aziz makes it clear that he truly thinks through the complexities of gender and races other than his own. I find it admirable that he seeks to gain perspective, and Modern Romance does a good job of dissecting how contemporary dating problems are different for men and women. The emerging adulthood phase is particularly revolutionary for women, because now they don’t have to immediately go from their father’s arms to dependency on another man, their husband. Obviously, this is not identical across socioeconomic status, and it pains me to think that there are still so many women whose relationship choices are anything but a choice. It doesn’t help when I come across absolute trash agendas, like this Brietbart scumbaggary. HOLD ME BACK.
            In case you totally skimmed past the first paragraph, I have a boyfriend. At first, I thought this book would be pretty useless to me, because it seems to cater itself to a single audience filled with people trying to navigate the dating world. While not everything in Modern Romance was applicable to me, I still found it consistently enlightening, and I think that people in relationships will enjoy this book just as much as all you single heads. For instance, I haven’t had to play the coy texting game for a long time. You know, the one where someone texts you and then you wait a certain amount of time to text them back, because you don’t want to seem overeager, but you also don’t want to seem like you can’t hold a conversation. Aziz relates this game to some studies by behavioral scientists about effort and reward. Turns out, if we can’t predict when or if we’re getting a reward, we’re more interested in that reward when it finally comes. Furthermore, if you’re deprived of that reward for a longer time, you’re thinking about that reward even more (like, why the hell do I not have my reward yet?), which makes it stand out. So, maybe you should wait a little while on the text-back. And when you do, avoid texting anything like this:
Aziz is a smart dude. His book is smartly written. Read his book, if you want to laugh and be smarter. I give Modern Romance 4 out of 5 camel humps, and I trust that readers, regardless of relationship status, will appreciate what this book has to offer.

*Ansari, Aziz. Modern Romance. New York: Penguin Books, 2015. Print.