Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Wanderers

As readers of this blog have noticed, Richard Price is one of my favourite authors. Certainly one of the greatest writers of dialogue in the history of American literature, half of his works are out of print. I hate that John Grisham and Dan Brown and Tom Clancy and a million other authors are in print, and terrible, and yet I can't find a Richard Price novel. Except, I found this one, The Wanderers, his first novel published.

The Wanderers are a gang of kids in New York around the sixties, and this novel is about the rival gangs, the apathetic teachers, the violent parents, the girlfriends they're always trying to sleep with, and how the gang deals with them. We follow a handful of the gangmembers as they go to school, get into fights, have sex, get into more fights, go to parties and everything in between.

This is really a collection of connected short stories rather than a unified novel, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't think any of the characters are interesting enough to sustain an entire novel, so the episodic format works to the novel's benefit.

What doesn't work is the aforementioned character problems. Most of the gang member cast tend to get a little same-y by the halfway point. They all talk the same, swear the same, and have the same motive: sex.

Price's books tend to be classified as social novels, as they're about the problems facing a particular group of people in a particular time. Sort of like The Wire, but on a smaller level (which Price would eventually become a staff writer on). The Wanderers, however, doesn't quite gel when it comes to Price's thesis. Certainly these kids face problems, but they appear systemic (much like the thesis of The Wire), but the problems aren't quite articulated well enough to sustain the themes of a social novel. This is a prototype for the masterpieces that Price would go on to write.

The Wanderers shows the potential that Price had, but also shows his seemingly innate knowledge of story. While it is a collection of short stories, each one stands on its own, while still pushing the overall plot forward. The cooperation of micro and macro is an extremely difficult thing to pull off, which Price pulls off quite well. These stories are one that you could sit back and listen to, if Price was in the room telling them. Story, with its myriad of intricacies and tricks, is something Price does well.

Other than some beginner's flaws, this is still an entertaining novel overall. It's very funny, emotional at the end, and left me wanting more. The Wanderers isn't a perfect novel, but still very good. It demonstrates an author in the development stage, one who would go on to bigger and better things.

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