Richard Price Price, Richard (Vol. 12)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Richard Price 1949–

American novelist. Price's novels are realistic depictions of growing up male in New York City which explore both the specific and universal problems that arise from having to mature in an urban environment. The main question Price's characters ask themselves is whether they have the courage to break away from the security offered by a group: a gang, the traditions of a family, or even the heterosexual classification. Price's works have been written directly from experience, especially his first novel, The Wanderers, which deals with what he calls "my Bronx-housing project, pre-Beatle kidhood." Written at age 24, this novel received accolades from authors such as John Fowles, William Burroughs, and Hannah Green, and established Price's reputation as a literary boy wonder. Price's next novel, Bloodbrothers, continues his theme of adolescent searching, and relates it to a young man's questions about his family and his future. The success of these two books has caused Price to be considered, along with filmmaker Martin Scorcese and musician Bruce Springsteen, as part of the trio who are responsible for creating a contemporary mythology around East Coast street life. Price's latest novel, Ladies' Man, is a departure from his stories of the Italian-American experience, being a wry study of sexuality and the male mystique. Price's novels have been criticized for their excessive violence, explicit sex scenes, rawness of language, and similarity of characters and situations. Price has also been considered a pessimistic writer due to the hopelessness of his endings. However, he has been praised for his objective, sensitive portrayals and his respect for the dignity of his characters, as well as for his lively naturalistic writing style and accurate dialogue. As a chronicler of the wanderings of young people looking for meaning in life, Price brings the understanding that comes with recent personal experience to his works, and gives them relevance and a distinctive approach. Both The Wanderers and Bloodbrothers have been adapted for film. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At first it looks as if Richard Price is contriving extreme effects for their own sake in his first novel, "The Wanderers"…. By the end of the second story we have been treated not only to a torrent of street language that can't be sampled here and a swamp of sexual byplay that can't be described, but also to one aborted race war, one gang skirmish complete with Molotov cocktails and a scene in which two preteen-agers are threatened with mutilation of their genitals. Mr. Price is never one to underplay his scenes….

Still, it pays to keep reading "The Wanderers." For if Mr. Price's exaggerations seem troublesome at first, it is only because we haven't yet adjusted to the world in which they occur. We haven't yet appreciated the authenticity of his dialogue, which establishes itself only through its cumulative repetition of flat grammatical contortions ("Hey, this is Despie," says Buddy Borsalino, introducing to the Wanderers a girl whose "Juicy Fruit breath" has just begun to "intoxicate him." "Despie … this is the guys."). We haven't yet discovered that if Mr. Price's characters are pitched in a violent key—if they talk with their fists and dream of little else but treating their "seemingly incurable virginity"—their violence masks tenderness as well as brutality….

And it hasn't yet dawned on us that if Mr. Price's exaggerations are occasionally contrived, then just as often they ascend to a surrealism that justifies them entirely—as for instance when that playground football game is broken up by a horde of Irish Catholic "midgets" called the Ducky Boys, and there follows a glorious melee so bloody and brutal, so flashing with tire chains, car aerials and straight razors, and yet so comparatively harmless in its physical consequences, that it can only be read as a sort of poem of violence.

And once we get used to Mr....

(The entire section is 4,214 words.)