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Thursday, April 3, 2008

About Richard Price

I have never met Richard Price, nor have I read Lush Life. Further, I do not intend to read Lush Life. So, why then bother writing a post about him and his new book? Trust me, I've got reasons.

As I said, I never met Richard Price, but I did happen to see him once across the seats of a crowded movie theater. He was sitting on the left aisle section of seats; I was all the way over to the right. It was in New York, and Gov and I had gone to see Ransom, the remake of an old Glenn Ford/Donna Reed movie. This time around Richard Price co-wrote the screenplay, and since Gov knew Price from his college years, we went to see the movie based on that alone. I'd seen the original Ransom, and in my opinion it didn't have to be remade because it was excellent the first time out. The story is about a kidnapping in which the parent of the kidnapped child refuses to pay the ransom money. It was riveting; Glenn Ford was excellent.

How to put this delicately... Mel Gibson is no Glenn Ford. Not even close. True, I cannot imagine Glenn Ford even at the top of his form playing the lead in Braveheart, but it's my opinion that most anyone can do what Gibson does -- be macho and yell a lot. Very very loudly. Add to that Mel Gibson's inability to do a realistic emotional scene (particularly with crying -- he's a mess at crying), and I couldn't imagine Gibson delivering in Glenn Ford territory. Many movie goers did not agree with me on this, but I maintain they are wrong.

Anyway, so there we are in the movie theater waiting for the lights to dim and the show to begin when Gov nudges me and tells me that Richard Price is sitting almost directly opposite us on the other side of the theater. When I turned to look, Price stood up and made quite a show of adjusting his seat while simultaneously peeking around to see if anyone noticed him. He was wearing a t-shirt with the word "Ransom" emblazoned on his chest. His demeanor practically screamed "Look At Me! I'm Richard Price!" Eventually he had to sit down even though no brass band had played for him, nor had any audience members thrown rose petals at his feet. But somehow, from across that movie theater, I had the impression that it was what Price expected.

Not long after that Price wrote Freedomland which I bought and dutifully read mainly because Gov liked this guy, so I wanted to like him too. Unfortunately Freedomland was, in my opinion, not a very good book. But even then there were murmurs from reviewers who seemed to be genuflecting at the feet of Price. They said Price has a keen ear for dialogue. This was supposed to make up for the fact that his book was too long and incredibly dull. What could have been a good story was a mess of distraction that led nowhere. Plot? Forgeddaboudit. Was practically non-existent.

After that I ignored Richard Price. He's just not my kind of author. And then Lush Life was published and once again Price is just all over the place with reviewers singing his praises.

In the April 7, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, James Wood has written a long article about Price that almost reads as though Woods learned how to write at Price's knee. It's too long, too boring, and reaches too hard to give this book credibility. Where a whole bunch of other reviewers have told me that one does NOT read Richard Price for plot; one reads him for his finely tuned ear for dialogue, James Woods has this to say:
What if, for once, we did not credit Richard Price with having a "wonderful ear for dialogue"? What if we praised his wonderful mind for dialogue instead? An "ear for dialogue always seems to imply reportorial or stenographic prowess, the writer sitting in a bar or a bus, studiously agog for the modern mot. Henry Green, the author of perhaps the greatest English novel of dialogue, "Loving", a book written almost entirely in the speech of Cockney servants, insisted that his job was to create, "in the mind of the reader, life which is not, and which is nonrepresentational.

This proved several things to me:
  • Stay as far away as possible from Henry Green's books

  • Richard Price must have a powerful hold over reviewers to get them to give this kind of ridiculous praise about his writing.

  • Silly me, all the years I've been reading books judging them on several different criteria, but certainly plot would have to be at the top of my list. Now Woods tells me it's a "wonderful mind for dialogue" for which I should have been reading. As Colonel Sherman Potter used to say, "Horse-hockey"

I find this kind of reviewer snobbery very tiresome. If a reviewer wants to read and praise gibberish, that's fine by me. But just don't tell me that I'm missing something because I find gibberish impossible or too boring to read. Reviewers can certainly be honest about their likes and dislikes without insulting those of us who kind of like the basics of good writing, and like it or not, that does include a plot. I've been told by a reader of Price's that sometimes his "ear for dialogue" is so over the top it's not possible to follow what he's talking about. I read for enjoyment or to educate myself. I don't want to turn the experience into an endurance test. In my experience reading Richard Price is a lot like banging your head repeatedly into a brick wall. It feels sooooo good to stop.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

Reading Richard Price is exhausting, but in all I really kind of liked Lush Life--the novel, that is. I saw Richard Price read at a Barnes and Noble here in NY yesterday evening and thought he was really, really arrogant. So it makes me wonder why someone who's such a good writer turn out to be such a jerk?