drunk on the magic bus


What if, for once, we did not credit Richard Price with having a “wonderful ear for dialogue”? What if we praised his wonderful mind for dialogue instead? An “ear” for dialogue always seems to imply reportorial or stenographic prowess, the writer sitting in a bar or a bus, studiously agog for the modern mot. Henry Green, the author of perhaps the greatest English novel of dialogue, “Loving,” a book written almost entirely in the speech of Cockney servants, insisted that his job was to create, “in the mind of the reader, life which is not, and which is non-representational.”

And, indeed, 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. Some parts of society may speak more pungently than others, but our usual conversation is closer to Charles Bovary’s than we might like—a sidewalk on which everyone else’s opinions and phrases have walked. Actual speech tends to be dribblingly repetitive, and relatively nonfigurative, nonpictorial. Price, by contrast, awards his characters great figurative powers, endows them with an ability to take everyone’s clichés and customize them into something gleaming and fresh. His new novel, “Lush Life” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $26), which is filled with page after page of vital speech, shows him inventing a life for dialogue rather than just taking it from life; and this spoken magic is often indistinguishable from Price’s apparently more formal, descriptive prose.

more from The New Yorker here.