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.

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