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Recommended listening: Lush Life audiobook

Lush Life coverI come late to Richard Price. (So sue me.)

The funny thing is I’ve given Lush Life as a gift—maybe even twice—but I’ve only just listened to it myself, and it was a treat: the story, the writing and the audiobook performance by actor Bobby Cannavale.

The 2008 crime novel set on NYC’s Lower East Side had been on my list for a while. I’d certainly noticed it on everybody else’s lists, and it came with bonus recommendations that should have pushed it up the queue: 1) Price wrote several episodes of The Wire, (David Simon loves his work); and 2) I’d read that the novel inspired a series of art exhibits, an amazing way to celebrate a contemporary novel. It must be something, I suppose I thought, but I just hadn’t been in the right frame of mind for it, or I didn’t think I was. Crazy how you can fake yourself out over what you think you think you think your mood for something may dictate.

The detective hero reminds me a little of The Wire’s McNulty, and his sidekick feels somewhat like Kima in her smart, tough, sensitive grasp of situations. So if you like The Wire, you’ll probably like this, especially if you like to listen to books, because the performance is really nice.

Cannavale has the tough NY cop persona going so believably that you have to think the actor is a lot like the detective, and he’s using his considerable acting skills to represent the book’s other characters. That’s how I’d cast a book narrator anyway: pick somebody who naturally sounds very like the lead character and have them make subtle alternations to read the other characters’ dialog. (See Colin Firth reading The End of the Affair. Same kind of thing.)

I love the new style of audiobook reading that favors acting skill over merely having great booming radio pipes. The shift in fashion reminds me of the change we saw in BBC television dramas over the last two decades of the last century, when all that stage-y prissing around gave way to something more like movies. But, a lot of things, including some TV and some parts of the web, are becoming more like movies.

The audiobook style evolution makes me think and wish we Americans might be given to appreciating audio drama. BBC Radio drama is still going strong, and I never get why we can’t have it here. People Who Know have decided we can’t appreciate it, I suppose—or they have some notion that radio plays are just too old-fashioned for modern sensibilities? And I imagine they have looked at the data and decided the market for it is too small to be bothered with. Something like that.

So, next on the agenda, I’m going to check out the Wire episodes Price wrote, and try to discern for myself (without peeking at online commentary) if he had a special niche in the choir of writer voices like George Pelecanos had. You always knew when you saw the Pelecanos credit pop up that you had better brace yourself; a character you like was going to become an ex-character within the next 50 minutes.

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