Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lush Life (Richard Price)

Short version: Do you like great dialogue? Do you particularly like great cop dialogue? Lush Life is for you.

Somewhat longer version: I hadn’t read any Price before seeing him do a reading with Charles Baxter. The plot spools out from the shooting of a white kid on New York’s Lower East Side, centering on Matty Clark, the detective who ends up working the case, and Eric Cash, a waiter and perpetual failure who had been out drinking with the victim and standing next to him when he was shot. Much of the early going follows Matty and another detective, Yolanda, as they thoroughly disassemble Eric’s account of what happened in a lengthy interview that rapidly turns into an interrogation as they start turning up inconsistencies and outright falsehoods in Eric’s account of what happened.

The book is, as Price said at the reading, really a novel of place, though—the Lower East Side itself almost the main character, and the book works not just as a compelling police procedural as Matty works to solve the murder, but also as an extended exploration of the neighborhood and the people in it, from the projects kids to the roving beat cops and up to the wealthy entrepreneur Eric works for.

Plus (just to get back to the dialogue, which seriously, is first-rate), it never hurts when you can get off incidental lines like the last one here:

“Sunday night,” Berkowitz said, closing the book like a cigarette case and slipping it back into his jacket. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Sunday night going into Sunday morning?”

“Going into Monday morning.”

“Boss, we’re looking for habituals. Who’s going to be out there. Who goes barhopping on a Sunday night.”

“You want this happening or not. Saturday’s too soon. Monday I can’t promise. Tuesday’s unpredictable to the point of science fiction.”

Or, for anyone who’s ever been to open-mike poetry:

“What time are we talking?”

“Eight-thirty, eight-forty-five? They were having some kind of open-mike thing in the back room. I take a look and I see Ike at the podium, and he’s reading.”

“Reading out loud?” Yolanda asked.

Eric stared at her. “That’s what the microphone was for.”

“What was he reading?”

“I guess it was poetry because it had that pronouncement thing, you know, where you say each word like you’re angry at it?”

Hehe. So, yeah, great dialogue. If you need further convincing, he also wrote for The Wire and did the screenplay for The Color of Money, among other things. Go, read.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club (Kate Jacobs)

Why, hello! Fancy seeing you all here. Please, please don't leave! I can explain my 5-month-long absence. It all started back mid-March when I was overcome with constant nausea. I completely lost my appetite, which (for someone who loves cooking, eating, and thinking about food most of the time) was a completely foreign feeling. And the book I was reading at the time (Secret Ingredients, a wonderful collection of food writing from The New Yorker, a Christmas gift from Jim) I could no longer even look at. I was also exhausted, so much so that I pathetically watched Jim pack everything into boxes for our move. (I'm sure I must have done something to help, but I have no recollection what it could have been.)

We then spent our free time repainting the interior of our new house, trying to get the work done before our impending, very busy summer, one that included multiple business trips and vacations (Boston, Dallas, Seattle, Vermont, Philadelphia). And, back in February, I had enrolled in a UC Berkeley extension course in chemistry for work. So on plane trips and any time I could, I had out my calculator, a notebook, and my textbook, working through calculations and stoichiometry problems.

But then I found myself in O'Hare one week with a 3-hour delay, no chemistry book, and a low computer battery. So I went looking for a book, nothing high-brow or nonfiction. I wanted something entertaining but easy on the mind. And I found The Friday Night Knitting Club.

I'm having a hard time judging this book because, as my friend Amanda put it, pregnancy can make you want to watch movies like The Notebook over and over again. I can cry at a moment's notice, no problem (watch out Olympics!). So, in my enhanced emotional state, I very much enjoyed this book. The knitting part wasn't overly done or gimmicky, but was an organic part of the book. The many story threads, from different characters' points of view, interwove nicely, and it was a good, entertaining (albeit very female) read. However, the blurb on the front cover ("Like Steel Magnolias set in Manhattan") was a harbinger throughout. I found the ending unneeded and overly dramatic, but I enjoyed Jacobs's writing enough that I'll check out her other book (because there's no way she could end both books this way).