Hi everybody. If you recall, last month I decided to run a book club on The Wheelhouse Review. And back in those halcyon days of May, I chose Lush Life by Richard Price as our first book. Remember how exciting this all was?! I’m sure you do. Now, after a month of everyone reading the book, we are ready to discuss. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Before we completely dive in, I do want to preface that while I am an avid reader, I have not really written that many book reviews (outside of killer book reports). Originally it was not something that interested me all that much, but over the years I have wanted to do a little more of it, and have increasingly begun to write more reviews on goodreads. Therefore, since this is technically my first book review, I ask that you, the Wheelhouse reader help me out and contribute! Leave your own thoughts and criticisms (be it of the book itself or my analysis) in the comments! We’ll all grow together, writer and commenter. And with that little disclaimer, away we go!Lush Life is a murder mystery that takes place in Manhattan’s Lower East Side for about two weeks in 2002. Murder mystery is a little bit misleading, as you know from the instant the murder happens whodunit. The mystery lies in how the cops will find the culprits. The narrative focuses on the inner thoughts of one of the detectives searching for the murderer while dealing with the grieving family, a man who was with the victim when he was shot and the spiral he finds himself on in the weeks following, and the murderer himself, a young man from the LES projects.
Although this book is fiction, it uses its pages to comment on the very real tensions that exist on the Lower East Side (and other places in New York City, such as my home neighborhood of Williamsburg) between the long-standing population, immigrants from other countries, and gentrification. These tensions come to a head with the murder of Isaac Marcus in the book, which brings all three above populations in direct and uncomfortable vicinity of each other. The detectives and cops who are trying to solve the murder are the characters who interact with all three populations, usually with equally antagonistic views of each. From each population they find individuals who are unwilling to help, are snarky and judgemental of others. It portrays the detectives very much as the good guys, and excuses them from the behavior, which in the case of Matty Clark, the cop protagonist, needs a lot of help to excuse.
Richard Price is probably best known as a writer for the HBO show The Wire. This is very evident in the heavy dialogue style of writing found in Lush Life. Quite often it can be very confusing as to who is talking, since it’s playing out in your head, not a screen. I found myself having to reread dialogue to make sense of what was being said and its impact on the plot. And, in true crime TV fashion (I’m thinking Law & Order primarily for this), when the crime is solved and the murderer is brought to justice, the story is not over. The family still grieves, and are now joined by the distraught family of the perpetrator, and the cops move on to the next crime. Everyone feels a little worse, which I think is a fairly realistic ending for a book about a subject that never really stops.
One of the more interesting character formations Price creates is the inclusion of four cops who periodically show up to do routine drug busts and car stops. They serve as a Greek chorus of this book, providing commentary on the changing neighborhood and the shortcomings of all the involved populations. They also help to drive the plot, acting almost as a deus ex machinia in terms of finding the murderer. However, they work within the framework of the story, and do not seem forced or unnatural in the narrative.
While the book is enjoyable, it is fairly forgettable. Even while reading I struggled with remembering the names of the main characters, and now after a week they are almost gone. If the book was aiming for a stronger impact on the problems of gentrification and racial tensions that still exist in New York City, it definitely missed the mark. Like the murder of Ike Marcus a month later, nobody remembers.
Did you read the book? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Next up: We’ll meet on Wednesday, June 27 to discuss Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. GET EXCITED.