Erica Horne, March 26, 2009
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It is my belief that when you watch a movie, the best acting comes when you don't notice that the person is acting; you become absorbed in the film and forget that the actor is merely playing a part. Similarly, often the best fiction writing is when you don't really notice the writing; if the narrative is too cleverly written, you might admire the cleverness, but it breaks the spell of being in that fictional world. Which brings me to Richard Price, and more particularly his new novel, Lush Life: it is sometimes a little too stylish for its own good.
The plot of Lush Life centers on an apparent mugging gone wrong. Eric Cash, Ike Marcus and Steve Boulware are walking around late one evening when a pair of wannabe crooks try to rob them. Ike is a little too defiant and gets shot. Steve is out cold, dead drunk and a series of events lead the police to believe Eric is the killer. It is sorted out relatively quickly, but not soon enough to for Eric to avoid a tough interrogation and a few hours in jail.
Lush Life is a crime story, but not the typical sort. It focuses less on the hunt for a murderer and more on the repercussions on all involved. For Eric, the brief arrest is merely the culmination of a very bad evening and the trauma - including dealing with his own cowardice during the mugging - will lead him on a self-destructive path. Similarly, Ike's father, Billy, is unable to cope with the loss of his son. The third principal character, Detective Matty Clark, tries to find the real killer despite an unwillingness by the police brass to really pursue the case (after the embarrassment of Eric's wrongful arrest, they'd like the whole thing to go away). Matty also has to deal with the increasingly unhinged Billy while confronting the effects of his own poor parenting techniques.
There's a lot that's good about Lush Life. There are times when it is compelling reading, and Price often has a good sense of dialogue. On the other hand, there were times when his gritty, streetwise style is a little over-the-top and is distracting; in short, I noticed he was writing rather than just being drawn into his story.