Richard Price Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Rick Kogan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ah, to be 24 and have written "The Wanderers." To have captured the essence of the urban-American dream. To have taken a theme as old as the novel itself—the loss of innocence—and fashioned it as few have before. Ah, to be 24-year-old Richard Price and have written one of the few powerful and worthwhile novels of the year….

The language of "The Wanderers" is tough, the gang's actions often crude and vulgar. But it is an important novel for just those reasons. It is real. It is a work that tells its tale in the best possible way—using real characters in a real world. There is no sermonizing, no agonizing wasted space.

Richard Price has gathered the pieces to the puzzle of his...

(The entire section is 172 words.)

Susan Heath

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Richard Price, with a raunchy humor that smarts from the slap of reality, writes of growing up Italian in the Bronx during the early Sixties. He focuses on a teenage gang called the Wanderers as they skirmish through playgrounds, candy stores, and deserted lots during their last year together.

[The Wanderers is] a snappily paced novel that beats with the rhythm of street patter. And the sewer-mouthed boys who spit it out are characterized with deftness and economy….

Though The Wanderers reeks of ghetto life, it is not just another first novel about the slums. It is, rather, a story about nothing less than the universal drama: growing up, getting laid, learning to cry...

(The entire section is 132 words.)

Michael Rogers

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Wanderers] could be the flip side of American Graffiti: The time is the early Sixties, the kids are high-school age, the music is the Four Seasons, Dion, Smokey Robinson—but there the similarities end. These kids live in housing projects in the Bronx, run in gangs, rumble with car aerials and straight razors, and in general lead lives sufficiently grim to make the small-town pranks and repressed sexuality of the American Graffiti crew look like material for Hans Christian Andersen. Price's book chronicles the adventures and depredations of one gang, the Wanderers, during their last year of high school—an amalgam of sex, violence and humor, glued together with superb dialogue and...

(The entire section is 288 words.)

John Lahr

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There have been stunning books about black ghetto life, but Richard Price's The Wanderers finds its own place among the chronicles of urban turmoil by focusing on a white community, one step up from the black ghetto, in housing projects on the outskirts of the bourgeois dream. These are the children of blue-collar workers who with no stigma attached to their skin, no "heritage" of slavery, still find themselves excluded from America's abundant table.

The backbeat of rock'n roll pounds behind the cunning descriptions of family battles, the ferocious territorial feuds between gangs, and the make-out sessions. Rock'n roll promises action and joy in a world that offers little chance of change or...

(The entire section is 301 words.)

Eliot Fremont-Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Bloodbrothers is a] tough, dramatic novel about an Italian-American working-class family and a son's attempts to break out of a ruinously confining value system centered on mawkish or brutal (nothing in-between) images of masculinity…. The style is strictly "naturalistic," the momentum energetic, the mood at once gritty, funny, and quite horrendous. The novel's considerable force also derives from its authenticity: Price clearly knows what he is talking about, both the surface detail and the feelings roiling just beneath. He is sharply observant of these, understanding, not patronizing. (p. 46)

Eliot Fremont-Smith in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission...

(The entire section is 107 words.)

Greil Marcus

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Price's first book, The Wanderers … was not a great novel, but it was a stunning first novel (and not incidentally the first fiction to bring rock & roll into its characters' lives with the naturalness of Scorsese's Mean Streets). Unfortunately, Bloodbrothers, a sort of Italian working-class Catcher in the Rye, is not even a very good second novel. Eighteen-year-old Stony De Coco is trying to break free of his family and become his own man, but the reader may have to strain to care about the struggle, especially if the reader has already been through The Wanderers. Price has dressed up his earlier themes in new clothes, but that's all…. One would think the only story Price...

(The entire section is 197 words.)

Richard Elman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Bloodbrothers" … is a book with a thesis: family loyalty is the ultimate treason to oneself.

Like some proletarian fictions of a few decades back, this story of Stony De Coco, 18, and his clan grinds and blusters from point to point, undeterred by Price's feeling for life or his dramatic gifts. As Stony chooses between the family racket … and realizing his own possibilities in the world of strangers beyond the confines of Co-op City, the Bronx, incidents from the psychopathic behavior of the De Cocos, their wives, friends and other wounded kinfolk, proliferate as illustrations of a subtext about the mutual destructiveness of those who still comply to the hoary doctrine that blood is thicker than...

(The entire section is 544 words.)

Gerard C. Reedy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Since the De Cocos, Price's main characters [in Bloodbrothers], and I live in the same borough, I am reluctant to admit that my fellow Bronxites realistically and constantly talk, think and act this dirtily. That aside, some of Price's episodes are achingly moving, especially when Stony, the hero, talks to the kids in the hospital and when Chubby, his uncle, reminisces. Will Stony become an electrician, like his dad and uncle? Or a worker with hospitalized children? Memorable minor characters make each option believable for him. Although Price's solution is ineptly premature, Bloodbrothers offers powerful writing on almost every page. The author, like his hero, has great story-telling gifts; he also has...

(The entire section is 138 words.)

Julian Barnes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Bloodbrothers] is a smart, professional example of the post-Selby genre of lower-depths chic. Perhaps the continuing bankruptcy of New York is behind the flowering of this school, in which your archetypal American family beat and cheat one another, drive each other bananas, and then ensure that the vicious cycle continues into the next generation…. As one of the more detached characters puts it, 'the whole fuckin' Bronx is like a combination open-air loony bin an' Red Cross disaster tent, right?' If right, one ought to thank Price for his report from the battle-zone; instead, one worries about why he makes such a shapely, saleable artefact out of it, why the book-club classes will read the novel as they...

(The entire section is 176 words.)

Stephen Fender

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bloodbrothers is an old American story with a new ending: an adolescent undergoes a rite de passage, then returns home instead of lighting out for the territories. Mr Price's technique mirrors this tension between freedom and captivity. On the surface the novel is liberated from decorum and cliché. The dialogue has the energetic authentic sound made familiar by [Hubert Selby's] Last Exit to Brooklyn and recent films like Mean Streets and Dog Day Afternoon. But underneath it is conventionally authoritarian: heavily plotted, not in the serio-comic manner of Thomas Pynchon, but in the more ordinary sense of seeming contrived. For instance, Stony has a friend who seems almost magically...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

John Fludas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kenny Becker [in Ladies' Man] narrates his own story of a week-long panic that breaks out when La Donna, the woman he lives with, leaves him and forces him to share his apartment with a person he knows to be part fraud, part dreamer, a college dropout going through some premature mid-life crisis: himself. Like the untalented comedians and singers who try out for a pitiful amateur showcase in the brilliant first chapter of Ladies' Man, Becker, too, wants his place in a spotlight, to be acceptable to others and to himself….

In this book, Richard Price can do anything with words. He can shape a tightly structured novel, yet allow scenes to expand freely. Better than most writers who try...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

Laura Mathews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In two earlier books … Richard Price has documented the proud, cheerless world of New York City's white working-class youths, and the special bind of high school camaraderie. In Ladies' Man that mystique emerges, ambivalently, as the romantic anchor for Kenny's faltering confidence.

Price risks everything on the persuasiveness of his hero's voice, for the plot is static and the story has all the structure of a skin flick (which may be intentional). Kenny's speech verges on the solipsistic, yet is energized by urban patois ("did up some coffee," "whigged," "riffed"). It reflects both bravado and a panicky need to ward off the bad stuff he meets on the street ("I mean, I wasn't no depresso,...

(The entire section is 155 words.)

Jeffrey Burke

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ladies' Man is an effective depiction of loneliness, and Richard Price is an expert on the fulsome and frenzied aspects of New York City. Kenny Becker is a perfectly conceived character; so perfect, in fact, that he is thoroughly unpleasant to listen to at book-length. The clichés, the hipness, the latest urban argot, the masculinity so overweening that it whines—in short, the unrelenting gracelessness, however true to the social type Kenny represents, demands a high degree of tolerance or a peculiar affection for dialect. But that is a native New Yorker's reaction: outside city limits Kenny may well be considered good company. (p. 97)

Jeffrey Burke, in Harper's...

(The entire section is 125 words.)

Jerome Charyn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Richard Price has an amazing ear and eye for the street. He presents us [in "Ladies' Man"] with a cityscape that is filled with powerful spooks….

Richard Price collects the dung and scrap heaps of our urban culture in a frightening, electrical style. But the book's main problem is Kenny himself; Kenny gets in the way of the narrative with his 50-cent truths. At times he sounds like a hip Benjamin Franklin in platform shoes, dreaming wise thoughts as he gobbles on a stale roll: "Why was it that everybody seemed to have more friends when they were kids than when they were adults?" (p. 32)

It's this sort of claptrap that harms the book, because it gives us Richard Price's silliness...

(The entire section is 169 words.)