Monday, July 02, 2007

"Clockers" - Robert Price

One of the authors praised by Stanley Crouch in "the Artificial White Man" for examing America and race in depth, is Richard Price. Actually, he writes about Tom Wolfe, whom he praises, giving a speech in which he extolls Price for moving into Jersey City for over a year and striving to understand the place down to its sinews and guts and then producing the novel "Clockers".

Published in 1992, "Clockers" is about race, murder and drugs in Jersey City (called Dempsy in the book) in the early nineties. We see the violence and devastation through the eyes of 19-year old, ulcer ridden dealer Strike and just shy of retirement homicide detective Rocco Klein. Both are men at their limits of mental endurance and achingly striving to understand how they managed to lose control of their lives and how can they climb out of the pits they dug themselves.

Strike and Rocco have grown up, like all of us, with strongly held notions of how the world works. For years nothing they've encountered has discouraged their prejudices. When a fast food manager is murdered and it's discovered he's dealing from the restaurant things begin spinning out of control for Strike and Rocco become obsessed to the point of possibly screwing up his looming retirement.

Strike's brother, a church-going, hard working man who always does the right thing confesses to the murder. Strike can't believe his brother did it and neither can Rocco. Strike tries to find out what happened in hopes of saving his brother. Rocco too disbelieves the confession, instead believing in Strike's guilt. As the two fight their way through the streets and bureaucracy of Dempsy to discover some sort of truth we're given a deep tour of economic despair, drug abuse, racial hatred and simple police callousness.

Price writes gorgeous prose (at time a little too so) that sounds believable even when coming from dangerous thugs. Strike's boss, the mid level dealer, Rodney Little, with dreams of legitimacy while Faginishly building new teams of juvenile dealers to move his product, is one of the most disturbing villains encountered in recent realistic fiction. Rodney's manipulation of Strike is Mephistophelean.

"Clockers" exposes the war on drugs as a failure and the urban decay that robs too many American's of any sort of hope and ultimately the rest of the country of the contributions of too many of its citizens trapped in the rotten hulks of long lost cities.

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