Lush Life, by Richard Price
pub. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008
“So, what do you do?” Whenever people asked him, Eric Cash used to have a dozen answers. Artist, actor, screenwriter . . . But now he’s thirty-five years old and he’s still living on the Lower East Side, still in the restaurant business, still serving the people he wanted to be.
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No one writes better dialogue than Richard Price, states Michiko Kakutani in her review of Price’s most recent novel, Lush Life, and it would be difficult to argue. Price has a sense of the actual; he’s a realist in both language and setting. His dialogue includes slang like: “eye-wits,” “podner,” and “ey yo.” The writing is authentic enough for readers to feel proud that they understand the language of both the “perps” and the “vics.” Beyond the dialogue, the most realistic part of the book is the setting itself: the Lower East Side, a character in its own right. Price brings to life the tenements, the delis, the pizza joints, the cops, the yuppies, the Hasidics, the hipsters, the projects, and the tiny apartments with illegal Chinese immigrants stacked upon each other. It is the cohesive dichotomy of the neighborhood that spawns a constant interest in the unfolding story.
In doing his research for the book, Price followed the NYPD. “Sometimes I’d go out with the cops, and it would get kind of hairy … I could never be left alone. I had to run when they ran. It can be pretty scary to get lost in a building. You’re with the cops. Everybody hates the cops,” said the author in an interview with The Paris Review.
The depth of research that was done for the novel is obvious in the story’s authenticity. Every page, every sentence, every line of dialogue seems to have the ability to walk, to drink, to sleep with your friends. The reader smells the garbage piling up on the sidewalk on Rivington Street, pushes past the line of bridge-and-tunnel kids standing outside The Backroom waiting to be allowed in, and learns to watch over his shoulder as he pulls cash from a sidewalk-accessible ATM machine at three in the morning.
Lush Life is, at bottom, a detective story. A young, white male named Ike gets murdered and Eric Cash, the hero (?), may or may not have been involved. The book follows the lives of detectives Matty and Yolonda, of the Fifth Precinct, as they become consumed with resolving the case. Ike’s parents are also involved, as is Tristan, the perpetrator, a kid who writes rhymes in a notebook that he keeps under his bed next to the .22. The cornucopia of characters feeds the reader’s unending desire to envision the demise of the Lower East Side. Events unfold under the pressures of race, class, crime and personal crisis, both real and imagined. The book is a magnified study of American apocolyptic anxiety, and its characters and setting prove that no place looks better destroyed than New York.