I usually don’t read crime novels, but like so many other things in my no-so-lush life, I heard about this book on WNYC. Here’s something about my job – it looks interesting on paper, but it is mind-blowingly boring 95% of the time. So I listen to WNYC while I’m working so my brain doesn’t turn into complete mush. Leonard Lopate usually has authors I’ve never heard of on his show, and Richard Price was one of them. Price, who was also a writer for The Wire, was talking about the transformation of the Lower East Side. He finds kind of crazy that young rich white people spend the same amount of money in one night partying in this neighborhood than people who life there earn in a week. Lush Life centers around this tension between the new residents of LES: the young, rich and privileged – and the older residents of LES: the poor, the immigrants, and the residents of the housing projects that surround the neighborhood. And in the middle of all these tensions is the main character, Eric Cash, who is not young, rich, privileged, poor, or an immigrant. And he just witnessed a murder.
One of my favorite things in novels, TV, and movies is when there are no straight up good guys and bad guys. I like when writers/directors can make you sympathize with their bad guys and when they show the crooked side of their good guys. In Lush Life (as in real life) the police are flawed. You see them patrolling the streets, trying to solve a murder, comforting the victim’s family; but you also see them making inside deals, harrassing people on the streets for no reason, and playing favorites. Price is successful in making you respect and hate the police.
Overall, this novel isn’t really about the gentrification of the LES. The neighborhood only provides a setting and backdrop for Price to show off his skill for writing gritty police murder mysteries. When I first started reading the book, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. But then I got tired because it reads like a episode of Law and Order that just goes on for way too long. I was glad to finish it.
Yesterday I read this interesting article in the Times about a playwright named Arthur Nersesian, who’s love affair with The Power Broker inspired him to write a series of fictional novels about Robert Moses. A kid from the old LES, Nersesian says:
You know, there was a war fought here, a strange economic, cultural battle that went on, and I saw so many wonderful people lost among the casualties.