The Devil's Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood — Julie Salamon

By most accounts, The Bonfire of the Vanities is a terrible movie, and a not inconsiderable number of people think the same of the book. Consequently, reading Julie Salamon’s The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood might seem like an exercise in shallow masochism, but the book isn’t and tracks both the making of movies and the formation of and interaction among small, hierarchical groups charged with an overarching goal containing innumerable amorphous steps that must be defined before they can even be executed. I wish I could phrase the preceding sentence in something like English instead of consultant-speak, but it nonetheless expresses a true idea about The Devil’s Candy, which is also the story of a cultural industry most people don’t understand, or understand poorly, and yet has an outsized impact on how people think and feel. Running through it like the Mississippi through the United States is money:

During [de Palma’s] twenty-five years in the business, he’d seen a lot of astute, intelligent boys like Schwab [the second-unit director] come and go. They knew everything there was to know about film but were too proud to sell themselves. So many of them never got it, that in the movie industry art was a product and the only way to succeed way to figure out how to move the merchandise.

The same sentiment is voiced again:

[Orson Welles’] films didn’t make money; he hadn’t been able to get a picture financed in town since he’d made “Touch of Evil” in 1957 [… at an American Film Institute (AFI) banquet,] Welles gave a thank-you speech that ended with a pitch for money.

Those who manage money well succeed, and those who don’t are thrown overboard; money is behind numerous decisions for good or ill, and the knowledge that tickets must sell inform, for example, racial issues in casting and the script. Decisions about who to cast hold the The Bonfire of the Vanities back as executives and others attempt to simultaneously pander and avoid controversy, entirely missing a central point of Wolf’s book—that the media conflagration around race is what feeds the bonfires of racial tension as well as the self-immolating media itself. Were The Bonfire of the Vanities book not set among high-financiers, The Devil’s Candy demonstrates that it could be set among Hollywood moguls, perhaps with scenes like the one depicted at the beginning of Chapter 6. It offers a heavily ironic tone that I won’t give away, but such metaphoric scenes appear throughout, showing the principals in the movie apparently unaware or unselfconscious of the art they try to strip mine, no matter how much they say they care about the environment. And the more they try, the worse it gets. As Salamon describes de Palma thinking, “Racial Balance. Racial balance! What was he, the ACLU?”

That’s not to say The Devil’s Candy is an angry, anti-political correctness screed: it isn’t, and its purpose is to reveal how decisions that seem laughably bad in retrospect can seem reasonable at the outset. Though I’m tempted to analogize to Iraq, I won’t save through paralipsis. The Devil’s Candy also shows the inherent tension between art and commerce, with movies being pulled toward the latter, which also means they’re more likely to try and blunt rough edges or pull their punches in hopes of winning the bet. Of one change from book to movie, Tom Wolfe observes:

You know, there is an etiquette, particularly on television—and in the movies too, I guess—which say it’s okay to raise the question of racial hostility only if somewhere toward the close of the action you produce an enlightened figure, preferably from the streets, who creates a higher synthesis and teaches everyone the error of their ways. As the drama ends, everyone heads off into a warmer sunset.

[…]

I was criticized for not doing that. But life is not like that. To me reality is extremely important in fiction as well as in nonfiction. I don’t think you can understand the human heart if you move from reality.

Incidentally, this is the same problem a self-indulgent movie like Crash has, and a property of the healing character like the one played by Samuel L. Jackson in Black Snake Moan. One very impressive, unusual aspect of the TV show Friday Night Lights is its ability to avoid the sermonizing Wolfe condemns; I was skeptical of the show, as I am of any TV show, and only picked up the DVDs after seeing it recommended by The New Yorker and then James Fallows. The publication and man, respectively, are not known for pulling their artistic punches the way Hollywood does. Read the articles at both links, which better describe how Friday Night Lights is the rare example of art transcending its medium—which The Bonfire of the Vanities movie apparently did not. Even the example above, which involved the casting of Morgan Freeman in lieu of a judge of Jewish descent, as in Wolfe’s book, brought other problems; de Palma thinks Morgan is unprepared thanks to stardom:

There was something about the money and the fame and the adulation that made them [stars] stop doing the boring work they did automatically when they were struggling. Everyone tells them they’re great, and they start to believe it.

It’s a system de Palma contributes to, and the sense of this movie being a manifestation of systems and incentives grows as The Devil’s Candy progresses. Notice that de Palma blames “money,” although it’s money that drives movies. And it’s a system that rewards those who can operate from within, although at some personal cost:

De Palma decided he had to try, and he approached the project [of winning back studio exec girlfriend Kathy Lingg]—his deliberate strategizing gave the courtship the feel of a project as much as a romance—with the force and logic he would apply to a movie he wanted to get going.

I’m not female, but if I were, I don’t think I’d want to be a de Palma project, especially considering how many of them end up as bloodbaths.

The making of The Bonfire of the Vanities says more about America and life than the movie itself. For example, Salamon writes:

The social stratification was the only certainty on a film set. The players were always different, but the status was constant. And almost everyone was angling for better status. The camera operator wanted to be cinematographer; the cinematographer wanted to direct. The secretaries wanted to be associate producers; the p.a.’s, the production assistants, wanted to be anything that wasn’t the lowest rung on the latter. The stand-ins wanted to act. Everyone was working on a script.

This tendency was apparently exacerbated by the book and the expectations surrounding it, as “the idea took hold that this particular movie could be the definitive vehicle of dreams, big enough and flashy enough to carry along a great many people—the stretch limo of hope and ambition.” It wasn’t, and the fault is better placed on those towards the top than those towards the bottom. Status is hard-gained and easily lost, and blame is also easy; of a test audience, de Palma thinks, “They didn’t have a clue.” Maybe not, but if you’re in mainstream cinema, you better be ready to sell—as he’d apparently forgotten when he thought he was making art. “Money didn’t seem to mean anything, and yet it meant everything,” means that it means everything.

The Devil’s Candy implies that money corrupts to some extent, but that everyone involved, including watchers, is complicit. Look at what the book calls “the emergence of infotainment as a regular feature on local news shows[, which] resulted in a complex symbiosis between the studios and the journalists who followed the film industry for television.” But if those journalists have become derelict in their duty as independent voices, it’s only because we, the people, keep watching them despite their questionable province, like eating foul sausages prior to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. At one point, someone

designed his own diorama showing hyenas disemboweling a gazelle. He loved the juxtaposition of this image against the society crowd. “When you think about animals, and these people, you realize that’s what they are,” he said. “Beautifully dressed animals.”

Is he talking about the society Wolfe depicted in his novel, or could he also be talking about Hollywood, media celebrities, readers, and all of us? Such is the pleasure of The Devil’s Candy that it could be any or all of them.

The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood — Julie Salamon

By most accounts, The Bonfire of the Vanities is a terrible movie, and a not inconsiderable number of people think the same of the book. Consequently, reading Julie Salamon’s The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood might seem like an exercise in shallow masochism, but the book isn’t and tracks both the making of movies and the formation of and interaction among small, hierarchical groups charged with an overarching goal containing innumerable amorphous steps that must be defined before they can even be executed. I wish I could phrase the preceding sentence in something like English instead of consultant-speak, but it nonetheless expresses a true idea about The Devil’s Candy, which is also the story of a cultural industry most people don’t understand, or understand poorly, and yet has an outsized impact on how people think and feel. Running through it like the Mississippi through the United States is money:

During [de Palma’s] twenty-five years in the business, he’d seen a lot of astute, intelligent boys like Schwab [the second-unit director] come and go. They knew everything there was to know about film but were too proud to sell themselves. So many of them never got it, that in the movie industry art was a product and the only way to succeed way to figure out how to move the merchandise.

The same sentiment is voiced again:

[Orson Welles’] films didn’t make money; he hadn’t been able to get a picture financed in town since he’d made “Touch of Evil” in 1957 [… at an American Film Institute (AFI) banquet,] Welles gave a thank-you speech that ended with a pitch for money.

Those who manage money well succeed, and those who don’t are thrown overboard; money is behind numerous decisions for good or ill, and the knowledge that tickets must sell inform, for example, racial issues in casting and the script. Decisions about who to cast hold the The Bonfire of the Vanities back as executives and others attempt to simultaneously pander and avoid controversy, entirely missing a central point of Wolf’s book—that the media conflagration around race is what feeds the bonfires of racial tension as well as the self-immolating media itself. Were The Bonfire of the Vanities book not set among high-financiers, The Devil’s Candy demonstrates that it could be set among Hollywood moguls, perhaps with scenes like the one depicted at the beginning of Chapter 6. It offers a heavily ironic tone that I won’t give away, but such metaphoric scenes appear throughout, showing the principals in the movie apparently unaware or unselfconscious of the art they try to strip mine, no matter how much they say they care about the environment. And the more they try, the worse it gets. As Salamon describes de Palma thinking, “Racial Balance. Racial balance! What was he, the ACLU?”

That’s not to say The Devil’s Candy is an angry, anti-political correctness screed: it isn’t, and its purpose is to reveal how decisions that seem laughably bad in retrospect can seem reasonable at the outset. Though I’m tempted to analogize to Iraq, I won’t save through paralipsis. The Devil’s Candy also shows the inherent tension between art and commerce, with movies being pulled toward the latter, which also means they’re more likely to try and blunt rough edges or pull their punches in hopes of winning the bet. Of one change from book to movie, Tom Wolfe observes:

You know, there is an etiquette, particularly on television—and in the movies too, I guess—which say it’s okay to raise the question of racial hostility only if somewhere toward the close of the action you produce an enlightened figure, preferably from the streets, who creates a higher synthesis and teaches everyone the error of their ways. As the drama ends, everyone heads off into a warmer sunset.

[…]

I was criticized for not doing that. But life is not like that. To me reality is extremely important in fiction as well as in nonfiction. I don’t think you can understand the human heart if you move from reality.

Incidentally, this is the same problem a self-indulgent movie like Crash has, and a property of the healing character like the one played by Samuel L. Jackson in Black Snake Moan. One very impressive, unusual aspect of the TV show Friday Night Lights is its ability to avoid the sermonizing Wolfe condemns; I was skeptical of the show, as I am of any TV show, and only picked up the DVDs after seeing it recommended by The New Yorker and then James Fallows. The publication and man, respectively, are not known for pulling their artistic punches the way Hollywood does. Read the articles at both links, which better describe how Friday Night Lights is the rare example of art transcending its medium—which The Bonfire of the Vanities movie apparently did not. Even the example above, which involved the casting of Morgan Freeman in lieu of a judge of Jewish descent, as in Wolfe’s book, brought other problems; de Palma thinks Morgan is unprepared thanks to stardom:

There was something about the money and the fame and the adulation that made them [stars] stop doing the boring work they did automatically when they were struggling. Everyone tells them they’re great, and they start to believe it.

It’s a system de Palma contributes to, and the sense of this movie being a manifestation of systems and incentives grows as The Devil’s Candy progresses. Notice that de Palma blames “money,” although it’s money that drives movies. And it’s a system that rewards those who can operate from within, although at some personal cost:

De Palma decided he had to try, and he approached the project [of winning back studio exec girlfriend Kathy Lingg]—his deliberate strategizing gave the courtship the feel of a project as much as a romance—with the force and logic he would apply to a movie he wanted to get going.

I’m not female, but if I were, I don’t think I’d want to be a de Palma project, especially considering how many of them end up as bloodbaths.

The making of The Bonfire of the Vanities says more about America and life than the movie itself. For example, Salamon writes:

The social stratification was the only certainty on a film set. The players were always different, but the status was constant. And almost everyone was angling for better status. The camera operator wanted to be cinematographer; the cinematographer wanted to direct. The secretaries wanted to be associate producers; the p.a.’s, the production assistants, wanted to be anything that wasn’t the lowest rung on the latter. The stand-ins wanted to act. Everyone was working on a script.

This tendency was apparently exacerbated by the book and the expectations surrounding it, as “the idea took hold that this particular movie could be the definitive vehicle of dreams, big enough and flashy enough to carry along a great many people—the stretch limo of hope and ambition.” It wasn’t, and the fault is better placed on those towards the top than those towards the bottom. Status is hard-gained and easily lost, and blame is also easy; of a test audience, de Palma thinks, “They didn’t have a clue.” Maybe not, but if you’re in mainstream cinema, you better be ready to sell—as he’d apparently forgotten when he thought he was making art. “Money didn’t seem to mean anything, and yet it meant everything,” means that it means everything.

The Devil’s Candy implies that money corrupts to some extent, but that everyone involved, including watchers, is complicit. Look at what the book calls “the emergence of infotainment as a regular feature on local news shows[, which] resulted in a complex symbiosis between the studios and the journalists who followed the film industry for television.” But if those journalists have become derelict in their duty as independent voices, it’s only because we, the people, keep watching them despite their questionable province, like eating foul sausages prior to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. At one point, someone

designed his own diorama showing hyenas disemboweling a gazelle. He loved the juxtaposition of this image against the society crowd. “When you think about animals, and these people, you realize that’s what they are,” he said. “Beautifully dressed animals.”

Is he talking about the society Wolfe depicted in his novel, or could he also be talking about Hollywood, media celebrities, readers, and all of us? Such is the pleasure of The Devil’s Candy that it could be any or all of them.

Blue Angel — Francine Prose

Francine Prose’s Blue Angel (2000) bears more than a little resemblance to Richard Russo’s Straight Man (1997), which isn’t bad—both are smart, funny novels that use English departments as a launching rather than end point to explore politics, society, and life. Bad novels become mired in their time and place; good novels transcend them by making a particular time and place a metaphor or microcosm for something bigger. Sure, it’s easy to mock academic (or business, or families, or any number of other social configurations) life, as structure can easily ossify and become stultifying, but using these structures as a base instead of destination helps transcend them, as both Blue Angel and Straight Man do. From similar beginnings, however, Blue Angel and Straight Man diverge based on their protagonists’ decisions, and in Blue Angel the choice eventually leads to a hilarious and astonishing Kafka-esque tribunal scene.

Blue Angel is based around two theoretical premises: the fundamental imbalance of knowledge between novelists teaching creative writing and know-it-all, under-literate students taking said classes. I feel confident making the second generalization because I was one of those students—now I’m not in the classes but am otherwise similar. The second premise involves sexual politics and power, or lack thereof—while it’s wrong, wrong, wrong for professors to sleep with students, Blue Angel implies that it’s not always the professor who has the power. In addition, a plot point involving the latent sexual tension in many relationships is irresistible as a device in novels where very little else is otherwise at stake. And what kind of tension is going on in Blue Angel? Is it gender, power, class, or something else? They intersect and morph, much like in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Prose leaves the battle lines deliciously ambiguous. I can’t remember who said it, but I read that one way of propelling a novel is to get two people who shouldn’t sleep together to do so and then see what happens.

This used to be easier, when sex outside of marriage was completely taboo and divorce led to societal suicide and extreme social censure. Now you have to go a bit further. Marriage plots don’t work nearly as effectively when most people aren’t virgins when they marry and quickie, no-fault divorces mean that a bed decision can leave you back in the same fundamental position you once were six months after accidental nuptials. Ian McEwan exploits the cusp of this revolution in On Chesil Beach, but writers who set stories in contemporary times have to deal with contemporary mores. Prose does effectively through the hothouse atmosphere of an English Department, where Ted Swenson finds that he’s teaching “[…] every Tuesday afternoon, [when] Swenson’s job requires him to discuss someone’s tale of familial incest, fumbling teenage sex, some girl’s or boy’s first blow job, with the college’s most hypersensitive and unbalanced students, some of whom simply despise him for reasons he can only guess: he’s the teacher, and they’re not, or he looks like somebody’s father.”

Is Swenson trapped? If so, by what, or whom, except himself? It’s not obvious, and Swenson is aware of the dilemma: “But like convicts who love their shackles, nearly all [professors] chose not to escape” Blue Angel and Straight Man imply one can leave this vast, masturbatory game if you have sufficient ironic distance to survive, perhaps tempered with the unpleasant realization that you might be too weak, timid, or self-satisfied. The game is more serious and less serious than it appears, depending on the narrator’s mind at any time, and this is made more difficult when writing teachers aren’t performing the first part of their jobs and have reasons—in Swenson’s case, “[…] once more he’s [Swenson] siphoned all his creative juices into a brain-numbing chat with a student. He’s ruined the day for writing, and his punishment is to face yet another of the problems with not writing, which is: how to kill all that time.” The reality is that Swenson isn’t a writer: if he were, he wouldn’t complain about writing, he would simply be doing it. In an interview Robertson Davies discussed how he produced innumerable novels while working as a publisher and, later, while teaching. Swenson is, like many of his students, simply making excuses.

He’s also not so different from Ruby, his daughter, than he’d like to think, though she is underdeveloped and a mere figure. This might be intentional, as recriminations over her place haunt the conversations between Swenson and Sherrie; perhaps this strained distance is the norm for parents and their children rather than the exception. There are some other problems than the portrait of Ruby—for example, as so often happens in novels, the scenes involving computers are poorly done. Ruby also says, “The Women’s Studies Department had to threaten a class-action lawsuit before they’d even investigate.” This makes no sense, because there is class or group of people to file suit—only a single organization or entity. Granted, it could be the character’s mistake, but Blue Angel doesn’t show this to be the case. Elsewhere, however, Prose nails details, as when Angela Argo, the improbable temptress, takes a class in “Text Studies in Gender Warfare.” Blue Angel could recursively be an assigned text in such a class, given its minute reading of the bizarre sexual politics overlaid on the wider culture in tun overlaid on whatever biological human instinct hides under the veneer of modern discourse. References to churches, religion, and Jonathan Edwards peter out towards the end of Blue Angel, which is a shame because they offered a rich vein of allusions for a novel with more than a little secular sin and, it implies, mindless persecution instead of the high-minded search for justice and truth that the university is supposed to cultivate. Blue Angel is far deeper than its premise suggests, and its self-aware humor gives it enough heft to bite into a situation that could easily degenerate into silly farce.

Lush Life and Richard Price in Seattle

Richard Price’s Lush Life is a study in power—who has it, who doesn’t, who is trying to get it—and dignity, which, sooner or later, almost every character loses. Those who have power and dignity in one sphere, as detective Matty Clark mostly does in the police world, lose it in another, as Matty does at home. He is uncomfortably close to a stock genre detective, but the lush language of Lush Life gives Matty others such life that they are people, and people who reflect their social and media environment.

Lush Life begins not with a murder but with the “Quality of Life Task Force,” a group of four white cops who are lowering, not raising, the quality of life. The idiotic speculation of one is juxtaposed with an image representing one of the book’s central concerns:

“Who the fuck puts a Howard Johnson’s down here?” Scharf gestures to the seedy-looking chain hotel, its neighbors an ancient knishery and a Seventh-Day Adventist church whose aluminum cross is superimposed over a stone-carved Star of David. “What was the thinking behind that.”

Groups overlap in Price’s Lower East Side, with the influence of the earlier group never fully erased, just as the Star of David is still faintly visible. People linger, which Price spoke about when he visited Seattle in March, saying that there are “six groups of people who don’t realize they’re not there anymore.” Moreover, as he says, “nobody knows anybody, nobody sees anything,” especially relating to crime, which leads to the perceived necessity of the Quality of Life Task Force and the real necessity of detectives like Matty.

The intersection of two particular groups leads murder, one group being the relatively wealthy suburban kids—I think of them as kids though one, Eric Cash, is a 35 waiter and would-be screenwriter—who move back to the areas their grant parents fled and provide the victim. The other group is the poor urban kids who might have provided the perpetrators. None come off well. Nor do their parents, who range from uninterested in actively hostile. The murder of Isaac Marcus, for example, inspires his divorced parents to shack up again in a hotel, and when Matty arrives afterward and opens a curtain, “both of them staring at him with the unself-consciousness of animals, with unblinking pie-eyed shock.” But are they in shock at the light, Matty, themselves, or the situation? I’m not sure, which is part of the novel’s beauty.

Ambiguity is everywhere, as characters hope and dream of higher places. Eric is a friend, loosely defined, of Isaac Marcus, his desire to get into the movies is a much lighter version of Sean Touhey from Clockers. Lush Life in general is a better, subtler, richer version of Clockers, which is a tremendous compliment, for Clockers itself is a strong novel. But Lush Life goes beyond it, artistically and socially. Where Clockers is all cops and robbers, Lush Life encompasses everyone from the rich kids and the nominally upper echelons of society to the street dregs. It captures the former better than, say, Claire Messud’s good if indulgent The Emperor’s Children, which also focuses on them, and the latter with the skill Price has already established. You see a fantastic collision on page 92, when Eric tries to describe his work, of which he is vaguely ashamed, especially in the face of the skeptical cops. And with good reason: Matty belittles him, the scene is so effective I a) hesitate to quote it and yet b) want to so badly*. The scene works so well because you know Matty’s description is what Eric thinks of himself if he’s being intellectually honest.

To the extent there are novelistic rules about plot, characterization, movement, motion, and the like, I don’t think Price breaks them—he simply wields novelistic conventions better than almost anyone else and uses his talent on language itself. One dangerous thing about writing a long post and then leaving it till much later for proofreading is that you never know when James Wood is going to come along and preempt you. But his discussion of Price’s dialog is worth reading, and I note that he also found the excruciating interrogation scene and quoted the same scene. Wood focuses on the dialog, but the brilliant descriptions and contrasts also help:

Despite its stark opulence, the place was the size of a shoe box, with barely a foot clearance between that huge bed and the three-sided terrace, which offered an imperial overview of the area: a sea of cramped and huddled walk-ups and century-old elementary schools, the only structures out there aspiring to any kind of height the randomly sprouting bright yellow Tyvek-wrapped multistory add-ons, and farther out, superimposed against the river, the housing projects and union-built co-ops that flanked the east side of this grubby vista like siege towers.

All that in one endlessly rolling sentence: by the time you’re at the end, you’ve forgiven him for using the shoebox cliché. Notice the missing verb between “height” and “the:” but it’s okay, the verb would only interrupt the flow of the speech, and I hadn’t realized its absence until after I quoted it here. The sentence tells you how the landscape reflects the people, with the age of it providing a backdrop of substance in lives that often seem to lack it.

Imperfections in Lush Lifeare minor: Tristan is flat, which is perhaps appropriate given his youth and the cruel environment in which he lives. Some allusions are improbable; would Eric or the third-person narrator mention the dancing of Tevye? Maybe, but despite Eric being Jewish I’m skeptical. Two pages later, though, and Price is hitting the high notes again, hiding and eliding and showing: “Seated with Minette on the front steps of the now deserted Langenshield, Matty went through the motions of rattling off a cursory progress report, omitting, of course, the continuing press gag, the scuttled seventh-day recanvass, and the unreturned phone calls.” We get a picture of the bureaucracy, are reminded of the plot, and learn about Matty in his role of cop in one swift, seamless recap; a page later, Matty’s lack of enthusiasm about his children is obvious: “He said, ‘Yeah,’ but Minette read the tell, searched his eyes for what he wasn’t saying.” As previously mentioned, Matty does fit the template of emotionally wounded but dedicated cop too well, just as his sidekick, Yolanda, is too close a fit to the wisecracking assistant, but these are things only recognized afterwards, as I discovered that the characters lead lives of what appear to be squalor from the outside. But Lush Life gives the sense that maybe their lives are redeemed by moments of happiness or small success. As the conflicts between cultural and social classes, law and desire, and power and language play out, Lush Life brought me along like a literary but streetsmart guide. I mentioned how few novels have moved me recently, and it’s a pleasure to find one that does so with such panache and skill.

The crowd at his reading, or at least the verbal part of it, seemed less interested in discussing the novel itself and the aforementioned panache and skill than the Lower East Side. A number of older transported New Yorkers came to talk, apparently, about geography and places.

But Price talked about ideas, too—about the residents who don’t want to complain too much because they’re immigrants, the families who came to the Lower East Side as immigrants and fled as soon as possible, and the ones now going back because of the real estate costs elsewhere in New York. One thing Price avoids is The Wonderful Past, as he said the Lower East Side “has always been a hellhole,” and sentimentality about it is only useful for the preservationists and such. One ironic point Price made is that a tenement museum exists not far from actual tenements, which I can believe.

I asked about the connection between Tom Wolfe, whose The Bonfire of the Vanities bears many similarities to Lush Life, and his own work. Price thought I referred to “Stalking the Billion-footed Beast” as mentioned here, but I said I meant that or Wolfe’s fiction. Price said it wasn’t explicitly on his mind but that Tom Wolfe had a point with his essay, and that there’s a whole world out there and you’re not obligated to make yourself its center. Instead of searching one’s interior, Price said “you can find yourself by getting lost,” and that’s been doing so for 15 years by following his gut wherever it takes him.

I got the impression that Price doesn’t really like Wolfe but respects him; in Lush Life, Price is a more consciously literary version of Elmore Leonard, which is a very good thing. Regardless of literary influences, however, Price has written as good a book as I’ve read recently and one that will, I imagine, prove even more resilient than Clockers.


* Okay, I can’t resist, but you’ve been warned that I recommend you skip it so the passage blows you away in the context. Matty tells Eric: “I have listened to your shit in here all day. You are a self-centered, self-pitying, cowardly, envious, resentful, failed-ass career waiter. That’s your everyday jacket. Now, add to that a gun and a gutful of vodka? I don’t believe that shooting last night was an accident. I think you were a walking time bomb and last night you finally went off.”

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