Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Lush Life by Richard Price

Book critics talk a lot about "crime novels" that "transcend" their "genre." Lush Life doesn't transcend anything, it simply is a great novel of social observation. This is what Dickens would be doing if he were still in business. Price's playground is the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a tiny area that hyperdevelopment has made, if anything, overly lush and full of life, crowded as it is with rich white hipster bars, tenements full of wannabe artists, poor black projects, and immigrant businesses of all kinds, all packed together into too-close quarters. One night a drunk white aspiring actor (i.e., a bartender) gets shot to death by two black teenagers. The witnesses are unreliable at best. The cops — cops are to Price what saints were to Michelangelo — who work the case do so cynically, sardonically, bitterly and with fanatical tenacity, all while uttering the best dialogue being written anywhere by anybody.