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Richard Price
January 27, 2005 6:13 PM   Subscribe


 
Unflinchingly honest, determinedly vernacular, often (to use his own phrase) "darker than a coal-miners asshole at midnight," yet uproariously funny and insistently compassionate, Price made a major splash in 1974 with The Wanderers a tale of a street gang in the Bronx of the pre-Beatles/hippie 1960's. Equal parts manic humor, sexual mania, rock and roll street poetry, unflinching portrait of horrific dysfunction and absurdist comedy, the book was a dazzling antitode to the Happy Days nostalgia whitewash of the era and was made into an oft-televised cult classic film. Himself a product of the Bronx's Parkside Houses and Co-op City, he infused his work these experiences. His next novel, Bloodbrothers was a searing but compassionate portrait of the brutality within a blue-collar family. He follwed with Ladie's Man, for my money the most searing accurate look at the American male libido in American Literature. The Breaks, an uproarious portrait of post-collegiate confusion followed, kind of an urban east-coast literary The Graduate. Comparisons to Hubert Selby and others were everywhere.

But Price slipped into the doldrums of addiction and vanished from the scene, thought by some to be another case of fame burning out promise. Getting clean, he took the odd step of going to Hollywood to stay that way, witing screenplays like The Color Of Money (for which he recieved an Oscar nomination), New York Stories, and Sea Of Love. Returning to novels after 8 years, Price expanded his veiw beyond the personal, penning Clockers, an ambitous, brutal yet human portrait of the world of crack dealers and cops, later made into a Spike Lee movie. Freedomland an ambitious reinterpretation of race and violence in America followed, then Samaritan a look at the hidden drives and pitfalls of modern day altruism.

I first discovered Price as a teen in the Public Library looking for a quick read more than a decade after they were written. Then I discovered his other novels by chance in used bookstores a few years later. Along with the entertainment, I found a writer who's "psychological realism" (as one admirer termed it) who has resonated with me for years and deeply influenced my worldview.
posted by jonmc at 6:15 PM on January 27, 2005


I like Price, and weirdly, Freedomland is the amusement park that was on the site of Co-Op City. : >

I didn't know he disappeared for a while--makes me wonder what other authors are doing when they don't put a new book out every year or 2.
posted by amberglow at 6:39 PM on January 27, 2005


I like Price,

Well he's another Jewish kid from the Bronx, amber, you guys gotta stick together ;>. Have you read Ladies' Man? Though the title may not make it seem that way, I think you'd love it.
posted by jonmc at 6:45 PM on January 27, 2005


i'll look for it in the library tom'w, jon. : >
posted by amberglow at 6:50 PM on January 27, 2005


I agree about Ladies' Man being an excoriating exposé of ordinary male sexual compulsion, although I'm not sure if amberglow will like it or be horrified that we do! I didn't know Price had written the screenplay for The Color of Money, and thanks for the link to that old Times article. Come to think of it, the novels The Hustler and The Color of Money were written by another great and underappreciated American writer, Walter Tevis, on either end of a similar disappearance into addiction, in his case a 17-year alcoholic binge.
posted by nicwolff at 8:38 PM on January 27, 2005


I've never heard of the guy, but his stuff sounds like it might be up my alley. I'll have to see if I can find some of his work (fat chance, in Korea, other than electronically, though). Thanks, jon.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:42 PM on January 27, 2005


Nice collection of links, thanks.
posted by greasy_skillet at 8:51 PM on January 27, 2005


He's also done some stuff on "The Wire", it's quite good, by the way.
posted by gsb at 10:17 PM on January 27, 2005



I've never heard of the guy, but his stuff sounds like it might be up my alley. I'll have to see if I can find some of his work (fat chance, in Korea, other than electronically, though). Thanks, jon.


This is exactly what I was going to say, minus the stuff about Korea. So.. seconded!
posted by The God Complex at 10:44 PM on January 27, 2005


Price is one of the best writers of dialogue around. Clockers was absoultely gobsmacking in that regard. All of his books have a strong narrative flow, but one that is invariably driven by the dialogue rather than the other way around.

I used to do a weekly public radio show, reviewing crime fitction and interviewing authors. I remember raving about The Wanderers and Blood Brother when they were re-published. Tough, fascinating, sensitive crime. Brilliant.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:56 AM on January 28, 2005


I agree about Ladies' Man being an excoriating exposé of ordinary male sexual compulsion, although I'm not sure if amberglow will like it or be horrified that we do!

Well, despite the title, it's not just about the hetero male libido, and the dialogue still crackles. I've actually reccommended the book to women several times over the years. Most of them loved it. NTM, the scene with the old Merchant Marine is still one of the funniest and most lovingly detailed things I've ever read.

He's also done some stuff on "The Wire", it's quite good, by the way.

I knew I had forgotten to mention something.

I've never heard of the guy, but his stuff sounds like it might be up my alley.

He definitely is, but warning, he's not for the faint of heart, very-un PC, lots of graphic sex, violence and unpleasant sentiments aired. But, I'd reccommend going in chronological order, starting with The Wanderers.
posted by jonmc at 6:47 AM on January 28, 2005


Another crime writer (and contributor to The Wire) who writes excellent dialogue is George Pelecanos. If you've never heard of him, check him out. I'd start with Right As Rain, the first of his Derek Strange series, but every thing I've read by the guy is great.
posted by Atom12 at 6:52 AM on January 28, 2005


Atom12: Pelecanos (and Dennis Lehane of Mystic River fame) have both cited Price (both his crime fiction and his earlier more autobiographical stuff) as big influences on them.
posted by jonmc at 6:58 AM on January 28, 2005


Pelecanos is really vocal about where his inspirations come from, and you can see the Price influence.

I really like the way Pelecanos uses music in his books -- just about every character has a soundtrack. He's really well-rounded in diverse and obscure music and it gives another dimension to the characters. Not to mention the way he describes Washington DC. After reading so many of his books I almost feel like a native although I've never been there.

As for Price, I love the guy. I just wish he'd write more. Pelecanos has a new book out just about every March.
posted by Atom12 at 7:17 AM on January 28, 2005


Ladies Man is heartbreaking and brilliant, a self-contained New York aquarium of loneliness. I've met Price, he's kind of dick and kind of great guy, just like you'd expect. Despite the inflated man author machismo swagger, I really have to say he's a writer with true honesty and feeling. Nice post.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:40 AM on January 28, 2005


Clockers was completely amazing.


To my embarassment, I just realized that The Wanderers and The Warriors are two different movies. I always thought there was one 1970s teen gang movie. The Warriors is the one I've seen.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:29 AM on January 28, 2005


I read Clockers years ago and even though I thought the plot was a little off, I was amazed that details seemed so perfect! I knew Price had written other books, but I read to escape man, not to get my heart broken (although sometimes that is a tonic for the soul). Thanks the post, maybe after I get done with the new Murakami, I'll be able to gird my loins for something heavier.
posted by black8 at 10:37 AM on January 28, 2005


*clanks beer bottles together*

CunningLinguist, come out to plaaaayy!!!

The earlier books are different in subject matter, but very similar in verbal style, and black8, you'll still get plenty of plain old entertainment value along with the plate of Heartbreak Helper. Few modern novelists are as funny as this guy when he wants to be.
posted by jonmc at 10:46 AM on January 28, 2005


LOL, Dennis Lehane also wrote for The Wire's third and, tragically, apparently last season!
posted by billsaysthis at 3:21 PM on January 28, 2005


great post, thanks jon. Price is an American master
posted by matteo at 12:30 PM on February 18, 2005


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