Friday, October 17, 2008

Lush Life

That's the title of Richard Price's new book that I've just finished listening to but it's also the finest descriptor I can think of for the past week! First of all, Don is home and second, Barack is up in the polls and acquitted himself beautifully in the debate Weds. evening. I even have it on good authority that Colin Powell will finally endorse Barack later today, perhaps on Meet the Press.
These wonderful things are all exterior happenings that greatly contribute to my quality of life, however, personally it has been a delightful week for me too, if I may say. Tuesday morning I met my incomparable supervisor at the county commissioners' meeting where I received accolades upon reaching my 15 year anniversary with the library system. How this could have come to pass is beyond my understanding. Anyone who knew me between 15 and 20 years ago, when I had 3 jobs and still didn't know where my next meal might come from, would never believe that my life would now be so wonderfully full and yes, lush.

Ann and I went to Mimi's for a sinful breakfast of hash, eggs and pumpkin pancakes and then I went along to work, a job I might add that seems new and fresh every single day - even on the bad ones! After a couple of hours, I was frantically called into the kitchen to assess a broken window (yes, I have the dubious honor of being the facilities manager at my library branch). My head was all over this, figuring out how the lawn mowing team must have shot a stone up at the window and that the repair costs wouldn't have to come out of our budget and yada, yada, yada, but, when I opened the door to the kitchen, there were my co-workers, the library director and his assistant and I realized that I was "queen for a day!" I had won the Shining Star of the Month award! I knew that I had been nominated and, quite honestly, I REALLY wanted to win! This is an award that's determined by representatives from all of the library branches and I'm honored to be up there on the rather stunning plaque with so many of my co-workers and previous winners, including that incomparable Ann, plus my friends Andrea, Betsy, and Laura. It may take another week before I get my head out of the clouds so bear with me.

And that takes me back to Richard Price whose Lush Life is anything but. Like my favorite gritty, noir authors, George Pelecanos and early Dennis Lehane, Price writes what I call, literary street lit. This is Donald Goines for the college degreed. The beauty of these writers is their ability to find nuance and subtlety in what some would say is just black and white crime. Their books remind me of the Greek tragedies, in that their victims and criminals are not simply good or bad people but rather people with whom the Fates are f.....g. They are black, white and Hispanic. They often happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ending seldom works out well.

The characters in Lush Life and in Pelecanos's The Turnaround, which I just started this week, are achingly human and, but for the grace of God or whatever power one believes in, could be you or me. Whether in NYC or DC you know these kids, the crew that gets off work at 2am and goes out for a few tall ones before heading home to their lonely walk-ups, or the teenager, Alex, whose girl is grounded for the night so he ends up in the wrong car in the wrong neighborhood looking for just a "little trouble."
The parents of these kids? Some are great, hard working, usually second generation immigrants, wondering where they went wrong. Others, not so much. The cops are tragic figures too, so tired of trying to save the few redeemables from the drug life, so exhausted from being called out to the same crimes on the same streets night after night, day after day. They've become so cynical that they've lost the ability to tell the innocent from the guilty. Maybe we're all guilty. Yes, these books are downers, no doubt about it. But they're so elegantly written and so realistic that it's almost a duty for those of us lucky enough to have been brought up in safe, small-town America, in nuclear (not to be confused with nucular) families, to read them and try to open our hearts to the kids who weren't so lucky. It might just influence our views of our criminal justice system and the young lives wasting away in lockups around the USA.

1 comment:

Infobabe said...

The beginning of your post where you recited how fortunate you are reminded me of me and how I am always saying that my grandmom would tell me, "you're a lucky, lucky girl." My next thought was that I was reminded of the the song, "Count Your Blessings." Of course, the song is from White Christmas but I think of the Ray Conniff singers. We are truly fortunate. I'm happy you have this moment in your life.