Friday, February 10, 2006

book 10: Samaritan by Richard Price

I've been meaning to read something by Price for awhile, and when this book popped up on the returns shelf at the library, I grabbed it. I wish I had more experience with his body of work before writing about Samaritan, because there is something brewing in this text that I can't put my creaky fingers on.

Overall, I found Samaritan sentimental and a little silly. The plot was complex enough to pull me along, each tiny mystery feeding the larger one-- why did Ray Mitchell wake up in the hospital with a serious head wound and an extreme reluctance to name the criminal? With so many tiny cliffhangers, you get the feeling the end is going to be kinda crappy. You wouldn't be wrong.

Ray is a ex-cokehead jackass, trying to be a father to his 13 year-old daughter and get his life together at the same time. Awww, except that Ray is now addicted to gratitude, especially from people from his past that by racism, drug abuse or bad luck, have ended up much worse off on the surface than him. The woman who comes to his aid (by way of a slightly plausable circumstance) is Nerese Ammons, a detective with the NJ police force, who feels a debt to Ray because he held her face together 30 years before. They grew up in the Hopewell Homes together, and those projects play a huge supporting role in this book. Mostly that is not annoying, but Ray's nostalgia, in combination with his inablility to refrain from trying to cast a narrative spell on whoever he's with, make his white-boy-from-the-projects backstory painful.

How race affects relationships, especially through the prism of shared experience, is heavily explored in this book. Price is mostly on target, with Nerese in particular, but he makes a few missteps that bug so so bad. One example is when Ray's black girlfriend gives him the goodbye "gift" of some silent,rushed anal sex. Because I guess there is nothing like rushed anal sex to underscore the otherness of a black woman with attitude. Barf. In fact, much of Ray's relationship with that woman is vomit-worthy, so much so I have to believe it is on purpose-- could Price be writing so poorly in these sections by accident?

I plan on reading The Wanderers, Price's first novel. For Samaritan, I can only recommend it if you love detective fiction of all kinds, or you just want to get really pissed off.

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