Inside the core of the Apple
HE HAS been described as “The Fonzie of literature”, referencing the iconic cool figure whose black-leathered image towered over the Happy Days TV series. We all knew that the Fonz, as played by Henry Winkler, was Italian on paper but almost certainly Jewish in his heart.
Richard Price, a self-described “middle-class Jewish kid” and author of Lush Life ( Bloomsbury, £7.99), pulls off an extraordinary trick: he presents the New York street in all its gritty, grimy, and occasionally repellent seediness, while allowing the reader to understand the many decent undercurrents which inform and lead the life of the city.
As an Oscar-nominated screenwriter ( The Color of Money) and an awardwinning writer of the hit TV series The Wire, Price has a near-unrivalled ear for dialogue which makes his novels fairly sing off the page.
In Lush Life, his lead protagonist is restaurant manager Eric Cash. Eric, somewhere in his past, is Jewish: he is 35, has an unfinished screenplay on the back burner — its theme, “anything about the Lower East Side in its heyday, aka Jewday...” — and is running out of options as to what to do next.
Ike Marcus, young, good-looking and covered in tattoos, turns up at Eric’s restaurant and charms the pith out of the customers’ breakfast oranges.
It all looks set to become a buddy movie, with Eric mentoring Ike. But in Price’s skilful hands, Eric Cash unravels. In the process, Ike Marcus is killed, street kids off their head on crack are implicated, and New York’s finest have a hell of a time working out just who did what to whom.
Lush Life is the kind of book you don’t want to end but when it does you feel rewarded: it reveals so much about a particular world. In every sense, a journey with Richard Price — funny, sharp and full of the ripest language — is a trip. JENNI FRAZER