Monday, 26 January 2009

Lush Life by Richard Price

I am sooooo not hip. And whilst I love visiting New York City, hip capital of the world, I do my best to avoid the seedy underbelly of that electric city that is the source of its eternal hipness. I am all too aware of my mortality and that underbelly is a direct threat.

Instead I choose to live vicariously and read about other's soirees into the darkness of the Lower East Side. Lush Life is as realistic a literary trip as any I have ever taken previously. Richard Price is a well known screenplay writer which means that the dialogue is destined to be good and it is beyond amazing. The real surprise was the depth of his characters to demonstrate just how shallow they are set against the backdrop of a city glittering but not made of gold.

The waiters at Berkman's, the restaurant to be and be seen in, are really actors and this is just a gig on the side until they hit the big time. Except that they have been doing the side gig for too many years to count and the likelihood of them hitting the big time is well and truly in negative equity. One of them gets shot outside a bodega in the wee hours of the morning and nobody is entirely clear about what happened. The police jump to conclusions in their desire to reach a swift closure and the shooter is lost in his world of deprivation and poverty.

Worlds collide in this novel. Class is a grand canyon and there is no one building any bridges. The scenes are vivid despite the darkness. Even the smells jump out of the pages.

Most shocking is depsite the massive character flaws of these characters, you can't help but feel a deep sense of empathy for them. They fight inner demons whilst the demons of the physical world try to destroy them. They are likeable even though you'd like to just slap them across the face and point out how stupid their choices are. But that's always easier when examing someone else's life.

Price has written a seriously historical novel about the New York that never gets shown on the vening news and deserves to be read.

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