In Richard Price’s new novel, Lush Life, everyone is acting except the victim’s father, and the central character, Eric. Eric gives up trying to be someone other than himself, and the father fails to make anything of his son’s death—it undoes him, so both men free-fall through the novel. Eric doesn’t fit into anyone’s scenario—that flummoxes the cops, who construct a crime line in which he, the victim, becomes the killer.
There are so many scenes happening on the same stage of the Lower East Side—the ghosts Eric sees from the past, the hipster scene in which young people try to construct a scene in which they make a difference. . The Chinese lie to protect themselves from retributions and extradition. The kids from the projects trying to play tough, taking street names like stage names. The cop, Yolanda, makes up stories of her own youth to get young boys to open up and tell their stories. Manny, her partner, tries to teach the hapless father to play act, to save his son, but Manny no longer has faith that he can play the father to his own drug-dealing sons. The tragedies of the sons break through the illusions of paternal power.
“If you speak the truth,” Oscar Wilde said, “sooner or later you will be found out.” Odds are, you’ll be found dead.