Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Got Crime Literature?!

c. David Grim (taken 10/24/10)

After watching the HBO series "The Wire" last year, I'm always on the lookout for other works by those involved in the show. I've made myself pretty clear on this subject before, but it's worth repeating- "The Wire" is absolutely one of the best television shows ever made. I'm not even into police procedurals. They generally leave me bored. I don't know why that is, but I suspect it has something to do with tone. The characters always seem to sleepwalk through the cases and act out their parts in very stereotypical ways. I guess it's because the average media-consumer prefers that.

"The Wire", on the other hand, was densely constructed and consistently absorbing. It explored not only its specific locale (inner-city Baltimore), but also presented social themes which permeate the entire nation. The series was epic and featured fine performances by a cast of actors who were only vaguely recognizable from previous work. For most of the players, their roles on "The Wire" will define them in American pop culture throughout their careers. That's how iconic this show is/was.

Possibly the most essential elements to the success of "The Wire" were its conception and articulation. David Simon is a near genius producer, and his work on "Homicide" set a baseline of expectations for every projsct he's been involved with since (his latest series is "Treme"- an examination of culture and life in post-Katrina New Orleans). For "The Wire" he assembled an excellent group of crime writers, including luminaries like Dennnis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Richard Price. I was impressed enough with their efforts to track down some of their individual works.

In fact I recently finished Price's "Lush Life"- an exploration of tragedy, crime, and social class on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He has enough talent to balance the varying perspectives of the "hip denizens" of Giuliani-era gentrification, the ethnic pioneers who have been living on the Island for decades, the project kids who struggle for survival and street glory, and the gritty cops who try to negotiate a workable peace between these factions. His ear for authentic dialog is just about unparallelled in the genre, and serves to elevate the material to the realm of quality literary fiction. At the risk of sounding cliché, I might call his style "Dickensian".

It really shouldn't be any surprise that I enjoyed "Lush life" as much as I did. The writers who contributed to the complexity and trenchant social commentary of "The Wire" all seem to shy away from the pat conclusions, easy answers, and moralistic certainties that so many other creators tend to embrace and rely on. Richard Price is certainly no exception, and I plan on picking up more of his titles in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, quite a few of the major actors in the series were previously together in HBO's OZ. You might like that series as well if you enjoyed the acting.