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Reading Group Guide

1. The novel begins as Ray tells his daughter Ruby a story from his boyhood in the Hopewell Houses. What is the significance of such stories for Ray? How good a storyteller is he? What is the effect of framing the plot within the story of Tweeties injury and his attempt to help her?

2. Chapter 5 gives an account of the information Bobby Sugar has gathered on Ray, including credit card charges and bank withdrawals, medical history, employment, address changes, etc. What does this chapter tell us about the way police detectives shape their view of a person and his or her possible motivations? How is that process similar to, or different from, the way a novelist creates a character?

3. Compare the books epigraph from Matthew 6:1-3 to the scene in which Ray, with Ruby present, gives Carla a check for the full amount of her sons funeral [p. 109]. Rays ex-wife Claire comments, “Ray likes to save people, you know, sweep them off their feet with his generosity. Its a cheap high if youve got the money, but basically its all about him” [p. 125]. How serious is this flaw in Rays character, and why does Price make Rays desire to help the novels central theme?

4. What is the effect of the novels structure—with chapters moving back and forth in time—on your reading experience? Why might Price have chosen to construct the plot in this way?

5. In one of Nereses many moments of insight, she muses about Ray:

“The constant white-black casting made her uncomfortable—no, made her angry; but that anger was tempered by the intuition that this compulsion in him wasnt really about race; that the element of race, the chronic hard times and neediness of poor blacks and Latinos was primarily a convenience here, the schools and housing projects of Dempsy and other places like a stocked pond in which he could act out his selfish selflessness over and over…and that he was so driven by this need, so swept away by it, that he would heedlessly, helplessly risk his life to see it played out each and every time until he finally drew the ace of spades, or swords, and got the obituary that would vindicate him, bring tears to his eyes; key word, ‘beloved, if only he could figure out some way to come back from the dead long enough to read it.” [p. 215]

In Nereses view, Ray is driven primarily by narcissism, by an obsessive desire to be needed and to be thanked. Is her observation correct? Does this motive outweigh the good that Ray tries to do?

6. How incisive is Price as an analyst of race relations? In his desire to “give back,” is there any way for Ray to be comfortable about race, to enter his old community as an affluent white man offering help? Does Ray recognize that in giving Carla the money for the funeral he humiliates her, winning her resentment rather than her gratitude [pp. 109-110]?

7. Is Nerese the moral and emotional anchor of the novel? Why or why not? Given that she and Ray have come from the same place, how have they handled their lives differently? What are the differences in psychology of these two characters? What motivates them?

8. Discuss the relationship between Ruby and Nelson, two children of nearly the same age who are thrown together by Ray and Danielles sexual liaison. Why does Ruby refuse to apologize to Nelson when she hits him with the softball? What is the meaning of the story Ruby shares with Rays writing class [pp. 353-54]? Why does Price make children such a crucial part of the story?

9. Is Ray exploiting Danielle, or is she exploiting him in their sexual relationship? What motivates Danielle to involve herself and her son with Ray? She sees herself as an independent and self-motivated woman; Ray sees her as a woman who has chosen to stay in a marriage with a drug dealer [pp. 198-201]. Who is right?

10. Samaritan is a drama of redemption, or self-redemption. Why is shame referred to as one of Rays defining characteristics? Does he have good reason to feel ashamed of himself? Why does Ray need to redeem himself? How successful is he in his efforts to do so?

11. Who is the most likely suspect for the crime against Ray—Salim, Freddy Martinez, Danielle? To what degree is suspense—the “whodunit” quality—important in a novel like this?

12. How does the character of Salim come across? Why does Samaritan end with Salim, and a chapter called “Thank You” [pp. 370-77]?

13. Discuss Chapter 32, in which Nerese and Ray tell each other about their future plans. What do we learn about Nereses past and the way it shaped her life? What is she trying to tell Ray about adults responsibility to children? Does it seem that Nerese will be happier once she retires from the police department?

14. In a blurb for the hardcover Elmore Leonard stated, “I read Richard Price for the cool, spare sound of his writing, his words, the language he has in his bag that fits so exactly in his settings. The characters talk the talk.” Do you agree with his assessment? Find a few passages that exemplify Prices strengths as a stylist and discuss their qualities with your group.

15. With Samaritan, Richard Price again reveals himself to be committed to writing novels that awaken his readers to raw and painful social problems. Charles Taylor commented:

“It seems to me that in reporting on some of societys bedrock institutions (in this case, prisons and the police) and on communities that many of us are either cut off from or see solely in terms of social problems (thus robbing the inhabitants of their individuality) Price is doing work that we should expect from our major novelists. . . . Though Samaritan is his bleakest book, you put it down convinced he is trying to find, in the midst of racial and economic divisions, the things that we share. Hes the reporter-novelist as despairing humanist.” []

How powerful is Samaritans social vision? Does it have a message or a lesson for its readers? What questions and issues does the novel leave unresolved?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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margaret moore, March 24, 2008 (view all comments by margaret moore)
This was my very first Richard Price book and all I can say is "great read". I couldn't put it down! His writing made me feel like I was a fly on the wall listening to the characters speaking. I'll be reading EVERYTHING Richard Price has written.
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Product Details

Price, Richard
Vintage Books
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
Reprint ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
June 8, 2004
Grade Level:
7.96x5.34x.87 in. .66 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Urban Life
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Suspense

Samaritan Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.50 In Stock
Product details 400 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375725135 Reviews:
"Review" by , "The mastery of urban melodrama that Price demonstrated in literate blockbusters like Clockers and Freedomland keeps growing and deepening....Magnificent stuff. If Elmore Leonard broke out of genre and were 30 years younger, he'd be Richard Price."
"Review" by , "The crime-solving framework pulls us forward but is unencumbered by the pedantic detail of a police procedural, and the depth of the characterizations is magnificent....Superb."
"Review" by , "A whodunit with substance and suspense....Price is known for terrific dialogue, and there are moments when you feel as if you are listening to [his characters] speak, not just reading words on a page."
"Review" by , "[T]o call it a thriller would be selling it short....The author's forte has always been characterization, and Samaritan can be read by aspiring authors as a note-perfect example of how to make fictional characters jump off the page. (Grade: A)"
"Review" by , "[T]he voices of the individual characters in Samaritan (as in the two novels that preceded it) are as vivid and immediate as anything offered by his peers, and Price's own voice resonates through these books with a unique combination of weariness and urgency....As a good novelist should, even one addressing social issues, Price avoids ideology. And though Samaritan is his bleakest book, you put it down convinced he is trying to find, in the midst of racial and economic divisions, the things that we share. He's the reporter-novelist as despairing humanist."
"Review" by , "Giving new meaning to the term 'inner city,' Price yields up not just the familiar, blanched moonscape of urban blight but the inner lives and jackhammering hearts of those who pace and patrol it."
"Review" by , "I read Richard Price for the cool, spare sound of his writing, his words, the language he has in his bag that fits so exactly in his settings. The characters talk the talk; the main one, Nerese Ammons, a gem, 20 years a cop in the NY-NJ iron triangle, lays open the plot, scene after scene, at a beautiful pace. Richard Price has written a terrific novel."
"Review" by , "Samaritan blew my mind....I don't think anyone ever sent me a book in hopes of a comment that was this good....An absolutely riveting story. The reader is hooked from the first page."
"Review" by , "[A] sprawling cast of highly cinematic characters, an air of pungent menace, a full-to-bursting package held together by a strong, suspenseful plot."
"Review" by , "Richard Price's Samaritan is gripping, ambitious, and resonant entertainment, everything you hope to find in an American novel and so rarely do. This is the work of a fiercely honest writer at the top of his game."
"Review" by , "The perfect pace of a superb storyteller is but one of the gifts Mr. Price brings to Samaritan. Razor-sharp dialogue is another....It all makes for an extraordinary novel, with the gritty plot of a hard-edged thriller and the cosmic concerns of a streetcorner Dostoyevsky."
"Review" by , "Richard Price's most insightful urban drama yet....[A] whodunit of the highest order....Thanks to his vivid documentary-like prose, readers feel what it's like to ride the faulty housing project elevators, to inhale the reek of cigarettes and urine in cinderblock halls."
"Review" by , "On the narrative journey from mystery to resolution, Price demonstrates his usual gifts for dialogue, detail and empathetic portraiture....When a novelist stays that close to the ground, there is no confusing illusion with actuality."
"Review" by , "Engaging...provocative....Price has a fine ear for the subtle tension between sentimentality and real devotion, and he understands the way that chronic black poverty plays into the needs of 'the selflessly selfish.'"
"Review" by , "Price has a great way with dialogue, [and] a better-developed-than-usual sense of structure....Anyone who thinks fiction or literature too small a shelf to include the other stands to learn a lot from Richard Price."
"Review" by , "Nobody does urban grit better than Price....[Samaritan] doesn't belie that claim, but it isn't his best, despite some wonderful writing....[W]hile many will enjoy as well as admire the novel, most won't be blown away by it."
"Review" by , "A whodunit only in format, Samaritan is that rarity, a novel of race relations written with authority, panache and heart."
"Review" by , "Richard Price is, without a doubt, one of our greatest living novelists. His voice is comic, skeptical, and at all times, deeply humane. Samaritan is a masterpiece, a novel that is actually about — surprise of surprises — the world we live in now. Violent, tender, hilarious, and heartbreaking, it is a world that, in Price's hands, is so ably rendered that even its smallest truths attain the power of universal myth."
"Review" by , "One has come to expect from Richard Price, the most brilliant of sardonic ironists, an eye for revelation in the commonplace, even a kind of modern social history. But Samaritan is also a subtle story of seduction and abandonment, of the dangerous luxury of responsibility, and the risks that are inevitable when one is capable of love."
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