Sympathists

Posts Tagged ‘Genre Fiction’

“You Live Here?”/”Not Right Here.” Richard Price’s “Lush Life.”

In Genre Fiction on February 8, 2009 at 9:10 pm

lushlife-bookcoverM. Standast, Kyoto

One measure of how much a book moves or captivates me these days is how long it takes me to finish it. This didn’t use to be the case. In high school I could read a book in a single night, starting from 7:30 or 8 PM and finishing at 2 or 2:30 AM. My senior year of high school I read between 200-250 books of every genre, level of difficulty, and length. The easier ones, those by P.G. Wodehouse, John Dixon Carr, Agatha Christie, could be polished off in an evening. Sturdier efforts, from Julian Symons, Anthony Powell, Kurt Vonnegut, took two or three days, while Joseph Heller and Ayn Rand would eat up a week or so. That was then. These days, everything takes longer. Looking at my reading list for this year, David Mendell’s Obama biography was put away in an amazing 5 days; Ballard’s Conversations took 12. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits took a month, while Richard Todd’s excellent study of authenticity in the modern world took 3. Five books in six weeks–43 books a year, a little meager. Fatherhood, full-time work, and a certain waning of, not of curiosity per se, but of that burning intensity of adolescence that allows for literary one-night-stands, intensity that is simply no longer accessible, all these have taken their toll.

Richard Price’s 2008 Lush Life consumed 14 days, the last 400 pages of the 450+ page novel coming in the last five. In this day and age, that’s full tilt, flat out absorption. Price, the author of Clockers (basis for a solid Spike Lee film from 1995) and The Wanderers (basis for the 1979 Philip Kaufman film–is there an odder director than Philip Kaufman?) has established himself as a kind of elder statesman of urban crime writing; when the epic Baltimore-based The Wire decided to go for name brand talent in its later seasons it was George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Price that were brought aboard. Lush Life got mixed reviews, mostly positive but not outstanding, and I only picked up the book after hearing Price on NPR talking about the victim of the piece, Ike Marcus, who brings about his own demise by telling a would be mugger pointing a gun at him “Not tonight my man.” Despite the reviews, something about the phrase stuck with me, and Lush Life has been on the top of my “to read” list for months.

The novel is set on New York’s Lower East Side, and Price gets a lot of mileage out of the intersection of longtime Jewish residents, African American kids on the fringes of school and the drug world, Chinese illegals who sublet already sublet “planks” in “boat buildings”–apartments overflowing with immigrants– and white yuppies with big dreams (performance artist, writer, actor) who inevitably find themselves at 35 still waitressing or tending bar. Continue Reading

A Post-Leftist in Genre Drag: On Ownership Part I

In 20th c. Literature, Genre Fiction, Questions for the Panel on February 2, 2009 at 10:39 pm

ess_ambler_1M. Standfast, Kyoto

Puritano has beaten me to the punch by offering us a highly ambitious answer to the ownership question.  He narrows down his list of masters to two, Franz Kafka and Emily Dickinson, and explains why he thinks these two will outlast even such established masters such as Faulkner.  My own list is longer, and my efforts to address the ownership question will likewise be at once longer and less ambitious than Puritano’s.  Apologies in advance.

My Authors

Eric Ambler, Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, Erving Goffman, Anthony Powell, Paul Theroux.  For each of these writers, I have read both deeply and widely from their ouvre, and I feel on pretty strong ground when speaking about them. Interestingly, I have not read everything by any one writer; the closest would be Powell, but even here I have not read his first novel, Afternoon Men in its entirety.

My Authors To Be

The second list is perhaps more interesting; it contains writers about whom I am working toward a sense of ownership but don’t yet have the expertise on to confidently put a claim on.  These include: Peter Berger, Elizabeth Bishop, Maurice Halbwachs, Herodotus, Machiavelli, William of Occam, Edward Said, Sun Tzu.

Eric Ambler

Ambler comes first for two reasons; he is both first alphabetically and arguably the oddest inclusion.  Ambler is generally remembered, if at all, as a writer of spy novels, and those with longer memories will recall that he was in fact a forerunner of the modern spy thriller.  While it is true that the Ambler books form a bridge between the more patriotic, almost 19th century style of John Buchan (1875-1940) and the prototypically “modern” (by which of course I date myself by still meaning 20th century), disillusioned overtones of LeCarre, Ambler himself wrote very few true “spy” stories.  Instead, most of Ambler’s protagonists come in one of three varieties: i) the small time petty thief, menial, or flat-out loser who is thrust into and manages to come through a dangerous situation in which he is apparently overmatched by relying on an innate cunning and instinct for survival; ii) men of middling status who, because of hubris or a kind of arrogant naivety, get into dangerous situations in which they are very definitely overmatched; iii) a cross between i) and ii). Continue Reading