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Tough talk

August 21, 2008

First thing you hear about Richard Price is that he writes great dialogue…a great ear for dialogue.  He does. But, as James Wood wrote in The New Yorker recently, “one would have to get very drunk or ride on a magic bus to hear the kinds of anarchic metaphor, wild figuration, mashed slang, and frequent poetry that Richard Price creates on the page.”  So, he’s got a great mind for dialogue.  Here’s a bit with detectives waxing lyrical:

“Perception, reality, whatever. They’re not happy, and shit rolls downhill. They’re at the peak, I’m like mid-mountain, and you’re in this, this arroyo at the bottom. If I can be any more picturesque than that, let me know.” 
“In my father’s house there are many bosses,” Matty said. 
“Whatever. Hey, nobody is telling you not to go all out, just do it quietly.” 

 

Arroyo?  Quite a word.  That’s like saying it’s in the arroyos of my mind or something.  But it’s fine stuff and I buy it.

Then there are long passages of un-attributed dialogue that can get confusing; you can get lost if you’re not careful:

“Did you see a gun?

“No, at that point Nikki and I kind of met from where we both started walking towards each other, fortunately, and I just went on automatic pilot, you know, pulling her down right behind this car here,” touching the passenger door of a Lexus, “so I wasn’t looking.”

“So you never actually saw a gun.”

“No, but I’m pretty damned sure as I was walking towards Nikki I saw the guy that ran into the building raise his arm beforehand, and I bet you the dead guy had a bullet in him.”

“And you didn’t see anybody else with them.”

Nope. Just those three.”

The ADA popped some gum.  “Any people walking by?”

“Nobody here but us chickens.”

“But who?”

“It’s a song.”

The ADA stared at him.

“Never mind.” Condo looked off, half smiling then.  “No. No other people.”

“And nothing was blocking your view, no parked cards, no moving traffic.”

“It was like a ghost town.”

The ADA took a beat to shift gears, the both of them watching as a gray-haired Chinese woman carrying two plastic bags of begetables walked obliviously through the blood.”  

 

Here’s Price at his street best, another long stretch of unattributed dialogue, lots of slangy stuff. It’s like driving your ’79 Datsun, the junker with no brakes, screaming down Second Avenue at 4AM and you’re riding the wave of greenlights:

“Hey, you jux someone from out of state? That’s a guideline felony.”

“A what?”

“Classical guideline felony.”
“Plus this whole area is historically landmarked,” Lugo reminding Daley, “which makes it…”
“Pre-indicted.”
“As in federal.”
“And federal crime…”
“Means federal time.”
“The fuck! It’s just a check, man, I ain’t even cashed it!”
“They’ll just take him away from us, the Feds.”
“I hate those pricks, everybody’s bin Laden to them. Won’t even listen to us.”
“I don’t feel too good,” Little Dap slurred.
“You’re kidding me.”
“Where am I?” Lolling his head, then resting on the bars.
“About two inches from a supermax.”

Doesn’t get much better than that.  Elmore Leonard territory.

 

Street life

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