By Richard Price
464 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The rare high-profile murder one still hears of in New York City these days is often a 4-in-the-morning misstep, a confrontation of prosperous whites with local project kids looking for a quick score on streets where rich collide with poor like atoms compressed in a small, warm vessel. Lush Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Richard Price's urban, witty, and wide-angled new novel, features just such an incident: a mugging gone wrong that leaves a young man shot on Manhattan's Lower East Side. It's a neighborhood now filled with super-fashionable clubs and no-name bars, but it was once the center of immigrant poverty so squalid that its need of reform helped bring about the American Progressive Era. Price, as he did in The Wanderers and Clockers, reveals his easy familiarity with characters from every level of the social pecking order: the harrowed detective, the guilt-ridden survivor, the savvy club owner, and the damaged teenager who pulled the trigger. He's as good with the psychological fragilities of the privileged and the automatic corruptions of the powerful as he is with the enforced ignorance of the youths in the projects down the street from hipster central. It's not just Price's much admired mastery of street language that grabs you (he also writes for HBO's The Wire, which feels Elizabethan in its creation of vivid contemporary language) but also his emotional reach, what you might call his heart: the careful revelation of detail that shows us, finally, the intricate sadness and hope of so many struggling new-century souls.