four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-Lush Life.epsWhile barhopping one night in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, 35-year-old Eric Cash, a failed writer and burned-out restaurant manager, witnesses his charismatic coworker Ike Marcus being gunned down in an attempted robbery. Arrested for the crime, Eric is released when a witness corroborates his story, but, forever changed, he starts down the path toward self-understanding. More than the crime itself, Lush Life follows the lives of hard-drinking NYPD Detective Matty Clark, the two suspected killers—abused street kids from a nearby housing project—and Ike’s anguished father, Billy, as it casts a scathing eye on the neighborhood’s violence, class inequalities, and torn social fabric. In the process, Lush Life asks tough questions about survival—and identity—in 21st-century Manhattan.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 456 pages. $26. ISBN: 0374299250

Hartford Courant 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Reading Lush Life … is a lot like watching a great movie, with the author as director and cameraman. … The story swirls and circles, as cops and killers and central and peripheral characters brush up against each other, often unknowingly, while the plot relentlessly winds tighter and tighter." Carole Goldberg

New York Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Price puts his myriad gifts together to create his most powerful and galvanic work yet, a novel that showcases his sympathy and his street cred and all his skills as a novelist and screenwriter: his gritty-lyrical prose, his cinematic sense of pacing, his uncanny knowledge of the nooks and crannies of his characters’ hearts." Michiko Kakutani

Wall Street Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[N]ever before has he used his gifts together (dry comic observation, blunt dialogue, vivid characterization) as expertly as he does in this wholly credible, therefore unsparingly funny, portrait of Gotham in our own decade. It’s Bonfire of the Vanities 2.0." Kyle Smith

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Price is funny and profane, displaying a large talent for story-telling and a genuine gift for empathy through a welter of clashing, cultural and class perspectives." Michael Kroner

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For Price, then, the social novel is also a crime novel, or maybe it’s just that in the intersection between criminality and citizenship we get our truest sense of what the city means. … Still, for all his observations of the city and his insights into the tensions of a changing neighborhood, Price can’t quite bridge the gap between this social novel and the subtleties of real life." David L. Ulin

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"While Price has gotten two levels of contemporary New York down expertly—the perps and the cops—he never manages to find the poetry in the aspirers, the would-be novelists and screenwriters (the would-be Richard Prices) so intrinsic to his conception. … This is clearly a writer who has spent a lot of time hanging around precinct rooms and driving in squad cars, and he’s discovered that the talk is a lot richer in such places than in your typical Manhattan watering hole." Anthony Giardina

Critical Summary

Richard Price deftly explores the urban world in his novels and screenwriting (Clockers, Freedomland, Samaritan, 2.5 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2003, and HBO’s The Wire), but critics agreed that Lush Life is perhaps his finest work of social realism yet. Compared to Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities for its adept intertwining of the crime and social novel, Lush Life just might be "the greater achievement" (Wall Street Journal). While offering a panoramic view of class and social tensions in Manhattan, Price also draws deep, rich characters (only one reviewer criticized the aspiring-artist persona). Price’s dialogue and interior monologues—from street slang to the vernacular—are simply stunning. A few reviewers cited some melodrama that detracted from Price’s social-realist goal, but no one disputed the perfectly executed ending.

Cited by the Critics

The Bonfire of the Vanities | Tom Wolfe (1987): In 1980s New York City, a wealthy, arrogant white bond trader hits and kills a black youth with his Mercedes—then runs from the scene. Soon, his fate converges with a Jewish DA, a British journalist, a black politician, and an angry, racially divided city.