Lush Life is my first audio book of 2009 and I doubt that I will find a better combination of author and reader the rest of the year. Richard Price is a master of dialogue regardless of the class or color of his characters and Bobby Cannavale, the television and movie actor giving life to the characters here, handles them all with ease.
Rather surprisingly, despite the length and heft of Lush Life, its plot centers around a simple armed robbery that goes bad because of two of the people involved, one of them a victim, and the other, one of the robbers. Two people, each totally unprepared for what is happening to them at that moment, are suddenly eyeball-to-eyeball and, to the surprise of both of them, one is shot dead.
Ike Marcus, a young white guy out on the town with two friends, refuses to accept the fact that two black teens expect him to hand over his valuables despite the pistol one of them is aiming at him. After he mutters what would be his last words, “Not tonight, my man,” he is struck by a single bullet and falls to the ground mortally wounded. On the other side of that pistol stands Tristan Acevedo, a young man holding a gun for the first time in his life and who is stunned to realize that he has reflexively pulled its trigger after Ike Marcus foolishly stepped toward him.
Lush Life is not a whodunit. There is never any doubt as to the murderer’s identity or motive. Instead, Price takes a frank look at everyone involved in, or affected by, the crime: the three robbery victims, the two robbers, family and friends of all of them, the police charged with figuring it all out, and the people who live in the neighborhood where it all happens.
The book is largely conversational, perfect for an audio presentation, and the way that Price allows his characters to express themselves makes them seem very real. We get into the heads of those black kids living on the project streets, kids so caught up in the drug culture that they are oblivious to any other possibilities. We suffer along with Ike’s father, an articulate man driven by confusion and despair to hang out near the crime scene in hopes that he will overhear someone bragging about the murder. We admire Matty Clark, a good detective and a decent man, who takes a personal interest in Ike’s family and risks his own career by fighting to keep the investigation as active as possible. We sympathize with Eric Cash, another of the robbery victims, who has his life almost destroyed by what happens to him after the crime. We sneer at the way the robbery’s third victim uses his fifteen minutes of fame to advance his show business career.
Even more amazingly, we come to know dozens of people around the core of main characters, each of them adding bits of color and detail to the world so clearly illustrated in Lush Life. I seldom suggest that readers opt for the audio version of a book over its written one, but I am doing it this time.
Lush Life is a very good book, one you have to hear to really appreciate at its most powerful.
Rated at: 5.0