• Sat
  • Nov 1, 2014
  • Updated: 5:36pm

Lush Life

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am

Lush Life

by Richard Price

Bloomsbury, HK$175

A city is always changing, its sands constantly shifting. A cab makes a left turn, not a right. A man is left standing on an unfamiliar corner without a ride. And a shot is fired. Death hits a line drive down the third base line and one man scores. This is the world of Richard Price, the author of seven gritty urban tales, two of which - Clockers and Freedomland - have been made into successful films.

Lush Life, Price's latest essay on the capriciousness of New York City, conjures the atmosphere of the city so effectively that we smell the sweat, fear and desperation of its characters, who live in the shadows of Manhattan's Camelot.

The protagonist, Eric Cash, is a devious, self-deceiving failed actor working as a bar manager. He's a cipher for Price's main theme: that New York may have been transformed by mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg into an antiseptic city for the super-rich, but the law of the gun lingers.

Price being Price, the gun is usually held by a dispossessed member of some minority who hasn't a hope of making money on Wall Street except by dealing heroin to bankers. Hence Cash, with two friends, encounters two such youths, one armed, on a dark corner at 3am. The script calls for the trio to hand their money to the hoods, but one of Cash's buddies wants to play hero and is shot.

The investigation of the crime occupies the remaining four-fifths of the novel. Enter Detective Matty Clark, a 'shovel-jawed, sand haired Irisher' who has been a cop too long but retains a set of values like the steel in the Brooklyn Bridge. Clark is under pressure to solve the crime and is handed Cash as the main suspect, with two witnesses supporting the idea that he killed his friend in cold blood.

That doesn't sit right with Clark, promising trouble ahead - mostly for him but ultimately for those who would sodomise the truth (sacrifice is too mild a word for Price's villains) on the altar of politics.

Price engineers an ending that's reminiscent of Thomas Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, which also tried to expose the danger beneath the surface of New York's affluence. The difference between Wolfe and Price is that Price puts much more sadness in his books. Maybe that explains the title - from a Billy Strayhorn song of the same name whose last lines are: 'I'll live a lush life in some small dive/And there I'll be while I rot/With the rest of those whose lives are lonely too.' Very Edward Hopper, very Richard Price.

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