I got to meet another author at work the other day: Richard Price, author of Lush Life. On first glance, I wasn't impressed. Price is an indescript man, neither handsome nor ugly, not someone that would attract any notice, no matter how empty the room. His off-stage demeanor was standoffish, the kind of of attitude that is either brought on by intense shyness or overiding contempt. After leafing through the first two pages of his urban crime novel, the book seemed sure to hold a similarly low place in my esteem. Still, he was a writer for The Wire, so I popped in to hear the end of his lecture.
Lush Life is a lot like the Richard Price that I saw on stage: a gem hidden beneath tightly packed layers of preconceptions. That Price was charming, quick-witted, and a little bit dangerous and so is his book. Set in the Lower East Side, Lush Life is a crime novel that has no mystery. Like The Wire, we know who pulled the trigger; we're just waiting for law enforcement to catch on. The real value in the book is the intense look at shifting environment of that area of Manhattan. It's a neighborhood in constant flux: the Asians replacing Jews, white affluent hipsters replacing immigrants, pioneers replacing natives. The only solids in this twisting mass are the desperately prowling young men, trying to find footing in a society that marginalized them from the day they were born, and the desperately prowling police, grasping at any chance to maintain influence in a sea of crime and political intrigue.
If you liked The Wire, you will devour Lush Life. You've seen some of these characters before: kids buying and selling dope on the street corners, the tough female cope, the male officer who has studiously made a mess of every personal relationship, the go-to snitches. Yet, even though you've seen them a million times, Price still makes them terribly compelling. From a book that I figured would turn into a paperweight in under an hour to a novel that I devoured in two nights, Lush Life is forever as shifting as the neighborhood it portrays.