“Lush Life,” the forthcoming new novel of New York City from Richard Price, the author of “Clockers” and many a script for “The Wire,” is superficially a crime mystery but really it’s an acidly funny and hugely successful attempt to get everything that’s happening in the city today between two covers. The collision between confused, stupid and morally blank housing-project dirtbags on the one hand and, on the other, cosseted suburban-grown product who staff and patronize hot restaurants on the Lower East Side while they await certain celebrity, leads to a homicide and then a runway show of the vanities. Price dryly takes it all down: the way a young screenwriter/bartender-for-the-time-being confronts an armed robber by exclaiming, “Not tonight my man” and pays for his foolish movie behavior with his life. The way the young killer almost inadvertently squeezes off the round because he can’t think of anything else to do (then retreats to his unpleasant apartment to write rap lyrics extolling his great secret). The way the well-meaning cops terrrorize the wrong guy with a sneak-attack interrogation intended to wring a confession that instead alienates an innocent man who is the only reliable witness. One felon shakes down a tourist for cash and is instead offered a check; the criminal thinks this a great joke and keeps the check to show off to his friends as an example of humorous folly, never grasping that in doing so he is carrying around evidence against himself. A memorial service for the slain writer/barkeep degenerates into a competitive audition in which his creatively-inclined surviving pals work it for the news cameras on hand. “Lush Life” covers familiar ground without romancing any of it; it’s so vivid and real, it’s like “Rent” as rewritten by Balzac. The book is coming in March from FSG.
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