Lush Life

Matty’s cell rang.

“Excuse me,” half turning away.

“Got a pen?” It was his ex.

“Yup.” Making no move to find one.

“Adirondack Trailways 4432, arriving Port Authority, four-fifteen tomorrow.”

“A.m. or p.m.?”


“All right, whatever,” glancing at Billy. Then, “Hey, Lindsay, wait.” Matty lowered his voice, his head. “What’s he like to eat?”

“To eat? Whatever. He’s a kid, not a tropical fish.”

One of the great things about Richard Price’s novels, as opposed to his screenwriting for The Wire, is that you can read the dialogue slowly, savor it, if you’re so inclined.

I might read this one again, to do just that. But the first time through, I was too overwhelmed. Not by the strength of the plot, which, a bit like The Wire, is barely enough to fill the vast amount of space available. And not by the three-dimensionality of the characters, either: they’re all maybe a little too glib, Matty and Yolanda in the novel being rather too close to McNulty and Kima in the TV series; Keith McNally and Schiller’s being a bit too obvious a center for the novel if you’re going to be writing about the yuppifying Lower East Side.

No, for me it was the wealth of Lower East Side detail, everything specified down to the street corner: the number of blocks it takes to get from Broome and Pitt to Eldridge and Stanton, that kind of thing. When you’re a New Yorker, and someone specifies an intersection, you can’t help but bring up a mental image of that corner in your mind. And when you’ve lived on the Lower East Side for the best part of a decade, and you’ve seen all these corners hundreds of times, and the novel is set deep into the real-world geography to the point at which even I had difficulty at times distinguishing the fictional from the real, that alone can be enough to distract somewhat from the artistry of the prose.

In any case, go and read this book: if you don’t know the LES quite as intimately as I do, it might be even better. On the other hand, if you do, and especially if you’re any kind of a fan of The Wire, then it’s simply a must-read.

You wait years for a great literary detective novel to come along, and then two arrive at once: this one, and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. I’ve read them both in the past couple of months, and there are some uncanny similarities between them. I’m not going to play favorites, but if you like your fiction noirish and realistic and dirty, go for Lush Life. If you like it a little more magical, read the Chabon. And if you like it both ways, read them both.

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