Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Price is right

In addition to guest writing for The Wire, Price has written eight novels and several screenplays, including The Color of Money and Shaft (2000).

On my lunch break just now, I got up from the couch in my office with a smile on my face. Why you ask? After all, it's not Friday, yet. No, I was reading Clockers, by Richard Price.

"Where does the smile come from?", you ask. It's in the beauty of Price's writing. And as corny as that sounds, it's absolutely true.

If you've watched The Wire (and judging by the show's huge following, you have), you're familiar with some of Price's work -- and how he can capture the tragic beauty, and comedy, in the midst of all urban decay that pollutes so many American cities today. Price was a guest writer on The Wire, and the now-famous "Good night, fiends. Good night, hoppers. Good night, hustlers." scene in season 5 was ripped from the pages of Clockers.

Clockers was written in 1992, but if it came out yesterday it would still be as hard-hitting and truthful as it was back then. Maybe you're familiar with the 1995 film, which was directed by Spike Lee. I haven't seen it yet, but it's coming up on my Netflix queue. I'll watch it once I finish the book. But I can guarantee that Spike Lee, even on his best day, couldn't capture half the emotions that Price jam-packs into his novels so effortlessly.

What sets Price's books apart from most others, like The Wire from other shows, is the unjudging look at people -- good or bad. Just because someone is a cop or a drug dealer, Price doesn't judge. They are still people with feelings, and in most cases, even a moral compass, as corrupted as it may be.

If you're looking for a plot, Price not may be for you. His books are not meant to be read on the beach, although I wouldn't hesitate to do just that. Instead, Price is more fascinated with his characters and the tricky situations they get themselves into, and out of, depending on the sacrifices they are prepared to make. But believe me, it all makes for intense reading. Despite their slow pace, Price's books are page turners.

And what's funny, is that while I read Price, I usually see and hear characters from The Wire, as if the actors who played characters in that show are playing the characters from the novel in my head. Right now, the character of Rodney in Clockers is being played by the same guy who played Prop Joe on The Wire. And it's eerily accurate.

You should give it a try sometime. But beware.

As a novice writer, who's dabbled in fiction, reading Price makes me feel like I'm painting in watercolors while looking at the Sistine Chapel. It's hard. Sometimes I feel like throwing away everything I've written because of this guy. Seriously. He's that good.

But I keep reading -- keep torturing myself -- because his writing, as raw and as heartbreaking as it is, makes me smile. And I did a lot of that while watching The Wire.

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