by Weston Cutter
In Old Town Square, in Prague, there’s this phenomenally ornate and gorgeous clock, and the story I’ve heard about it is this: the king found the best clockmaker in the world at the time (or in Bohemia), had him build the clock. On the day the clock debuted, the clock maker and the king both watched it, and soon thereafter the king had the clockmaker’s eyes put out so that he couldn’t make another clock as beautiful as what he’d just made for the king. (Wikipedia says the story is false: I say, who cares, it’s a better story than history usually is).
I don’t know who the reader is in that equation, but the master clockmaker, for sure, is Richard Price. I finished his eighth book, Lush Life, on Sunday morning, and I spent the rest of the day almost mopey because it was finished. I felt like a good friend had decided to ditch me. I felt, no joke, sad. I felt at a loss.
Which, if you’ve read any Richard Price book, is a common reaction, I think. I’d never read anything by him until recently, when I finally got tired of passing his stuff every time I was at a book store looking for Richard Powers books, and so I picked up Clockers…and like four days later I had that same, desolate response, that feeling of loss.
Here’s what’s easy to find out: everyone and their cousin thinks Price writes dialogue better than anyone anywhere ever, and everyone and their cousin are correct. On every single page, the dialogue is so musical and exact and true you less read the book than you hear it.
His books are also, almost freakishly, tightly wound. That feeling you get when you’re around someone who is an absolute, to-the-bones master of something? That equal mix of comfort and excitement? That’s like reading Price. You end up turning pages just to see how he’ll do it, how he’ll make the story unfold in a way that’s so inevitable the story feels less created than simply discovered and transcribed.
At the center of Lush Life are a number of characters, the big four being Matty Clark, an NYPD Detective; Eric Cash, a 35 year-old restaurant manager slash writer; Tristan, a projects kid with a voluminous hunger for power or violence or attention or anything that’ll give him an out from his own life; and the Lower East Side itself. The story revolves around the murder of one of Cash’s co-workers, a murder that is accidental, casual, the product of an environment where violence and predation is as part of the air as oxygen.
And that environment, the Lower East Side in the midst of gentrification and shift, is as weirdly troubling and complex as every other character in the book. Price does well illuminating the history of the Lower East Side, how it once was tenement housing and synagogues and now is projects bordering trust-funder hipster spots, but he does an even better job of showing the weird declivities and gaps that open up seemingly out of nowhere in that area. If you haven’t been to the Lower East Side in New York, go: what’s weird is not just how one block’s excesses and expense pushes right up against the next block’s poverty and lack, but how the two blocks, and the people from the blocks, negotiate all that.
Price is also, happily, a satisfying writer. Not in the sense that everything has a happy ending, but that the story moves toward a resolution that feels complete, that seems to offer something of a click of finality. Not that Lush Life ends with the reader smiling—though, perhaps, sure. But the ending doesn’t skimp on the complexity, doesn’t shunt any untoward or messy aspect of the previous 450 pages in service of just being done.
It’s a stellar, incredible book, as are seemingly all the books Price has done. It’s not just worth the $26 or whatever it’ll set you back: it’s worth your time and energy and concentration and attention. It’s worth buying a copy for friends, just because you’ll want someone to talk about this story with.