by Richard Price
Reviewed by Ted Gioia
Novelists once looked to the great authors of the past for inspiration.
Not any more. Books imitate movies nowadays. Face it, Tarantino has
more influence on the contemporary novel than Bellow or Updike.
Students in writing programs are more likely to check
out the brothers Coen than The Brothers Karamazov.
And when young writers use the word epic, they
aren't referring to Homer or Virgil; more likely, the
three Godfather films.
Richard Price, author of the recently published Lush
Life, could serve as poster boy for this new type of
fiction. Of course, Price knows the value of the big
movie deal. He earned an Oscar nomination for his
screenplay to The Color of Money, and more recently
has written for the HBO series The Wire. Even when
Price writes novels, such as Clockers or Freedomland,
the movie is rarely far behind.
In Lush Life, Price builds his story around a late night
armed robbery that goes awry. The guy with the gun gets shaken when
his victim decides to stand up to him, motivated by some crazy bravado
that inspires him to refuse to hand over his wallet. Instead he offers the
rejoinder (a great movie line, no surprise): "Not tonight, my man." These
prove to be his last words, and in the aftermath of the shooting,
everybody gets involved — reporters, police department brass, family,
friends, bystanders and every resident, it seems, within a two block
radius of the crime scene. The detective heading the case looks on in
dismay as this event blows up into a media circus.
As Lush Life demonstrates, Price is the perfect author for this cinematic
type of fiction. His stories are paced to perfection. He builds this book
from a kaleidoscope of discrete scenes — there must be more than one
hundred of them in the book - which are smartly balanced between
moving forward the plot, developing a character, or adding the right
ingredient for the moment, such as comic relief, gritty realistic details, or
some intriguing sub-plot. Where other writers focus on one or two
strong protagonists, Price carefully constructs more than a dozen well-
defined and memorable roles. One can almost imagine which actors or
actresses will be at the top of the casting director's list of hot prospects
for each of the screen parts.
Above all, Price is a master of dialogue. He can play all the angles: wit,
sarcasm, realism, good cop, bad cop, you name it. Here, for example, is
a conversation between a frantic youth and the cops who have just
picked him up on trivial charges.
"'Why you got to take my car?'
"'Criminalistically speaking, that forged plate automatically makes this a
RICO charge. Twenty years mandatory.'
"'As in years.'
"'Do not tell me that.' The kid whipping his head so fast his hair was a
"'That baby due in five months?' Lugo yawned.
"'Gonna be calling some other guy Daddy,' Daley finished.
"You'll be Uncle Plexiglass."
"The room settled into a bruised silence.
"'Thoughts?' Daley finally said. 'Comments? Suggestions?'
"'I don't understand why you got to take my car?'
"'Bro . . . Did you hear anything of what we just said?'"
You get the idea. This is the world of Lush Life: fast-moving, hard-
edged, and never played by fair rules. I have a few complaints, from the
modest (why did this author feel compelled to invent new rules for the
use of questions marks?) to the more profound (why couldn't he find a
stronger close for a book that is so brilliantly handled for most of its
But at least with a novel like this, I have some consolation: Price can fix
everything when he writes the screenplay.