The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Price peoples the Dempsy scene with characters that come off as chillingly complex and authentic. Stick-thin, high-strung, and intelligent, Strike operates within a code of conscience and honor. He never considers himself a criminal, merely a man doing a job that gives him some chance for a future. In neighborhoods outside his own, Strike feels threatened and outraged. Despite the gun he carries, the streets are not safe for him. He wishes the “knockos” (narcotics cops) would “do something about it.” Strike’s sometime girlfriend, a decade older than he, describes him as he wishes to be seen: “clean, neat, not loud with gold . . . alert, all serious and composed.” His outer composure, however, belies an inner turmoil. He finds the sight of drug use repugnant and turns away from it in disgust while chastising his clockers for open selling that could lead to arrest and loss of profits. Strike seeks the peace and security he knows will be forever denied him.

Rodney looms large—from some angles, he seems a god in heaven; from others, a devil in hell. He controls Strike and his other lieutenants with alternating compassionate nurturing and threats of violence, meted out in equal measure. Sexually promiscuous, Rodney nevertheless demands unfailing loyalty from his women, and he usually gets it. Worshipped and feared, Rodney wields the manipulative power of praise and the brute force of menace. He sits as king of the clockers. He will retain his...

(The entire section is 434 words.)