After a lucrative television writing career comes to an abrupt end, ex-high school teacher Ray Mitchell returns to the New Jersey city of his birth-to rethink his life, reconnect with his teenage daughter and to spread the wealth on the housing project that reared him. He begins teaching again, embarks on an affair with a married woman from the old neighborhood and becomes a mentor to a former student recently released from jail.Then, disaster: he is found beaten nearly to death in his own apartment. He knows who did it, but he's not talking, and he refuses to press charges.It is up to Detective Nerese Ammons-a childhood acquaintance from the projects-to get Ray to tell her what happened.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Nobody does urban grit better than Price-or so it was said in the '90s upon the publication of Clockers and Freedomland. Price's first novel in four years doesn't belie that claim, but it isn't his best, despite some wonderful writing. Most impressive are the characters-and not only the principals, Ray Mitchell, a white TV writer recently returned to his predominantly black home city of Dempsey, N.J., only to wind up in an ICU with a crushed skull, and Nerese Ammons, black, Ray's childhood friend, now a cop determined to find out who swung the vase that put Ray down. The supporting characters, too, are blazing with life, as is Price's rich evocation of Dempsey's blasted cityscape. It's the plotting that's relatively weak. The novel is woven of two chronological strands, one starting with Ray's time in the ICU and focusing on Nerese's investigation, the other beginning with Ray's arrival in Dempsey and emphasizing his troubled relationship with his alienated wife and daughter; with his new girlfriend from the projects, Danielle; and with himself-for Ray is a self-loathing former cokehead whose desperate need for approval clouds his judgment time and again. The binary plotting is interesting, but a bit gimmicky and doesn't help the book's pace, and a narrative turn near the end involving Ray and his daughter feels contrived. Since Ray's need for approval prevents him from telling Nerese who conked him, the book is basically a whodunit. Few readers will guess the real culprit: is it Danielle's jealous jailbird husband The erratic street artist Ray is supporting Danielle The questions will hold readers' interest but not seize it, and while many will enjoy as well as admire the novel, most won't be blown away by it. 150,000 first printing; simultaneous Random House Audio. (Jan. 13) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 08, 2004
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Excerpt from Samaritan by Richard Price
Ray Mitchell, white, forty-three, and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Ruby, sat perched on the top slat of a playground bench in the heart of the Hopewell Houses, a twenty-four-tower low-income housing project in the city of Dempsy, New Jersey.
It was just after sundown: a clear winter's night, the sky still holding on to that last tinge of electric blue. Directly above their heads, sneaker-fruit and snagged plastic bags dangled from bare tree limbs; above that, an encircling ring of fourteen-story buildings; hundreds of aluminum-framed eyes twitching TV-light silver, and above all, the stars, faintly panting, like dogs at rest.
They were alone, but Ray wasn't too concerned about it-he had grown up in these houses; eighteen years ending in college, and naive or not he just couldn't quite regard Hopewell as an alien nation. Besides, a foot and a half of snow had fallen in the last two days and that kind of drama tended to put a hush on things, herd most of the worrisome stuff indoors.
Not that it was even all that cold-they were reasonably comfortable sitting there under the yellow glow of sodium lights, looking out over the pristine crust under which, half-buried, were geodesic monkey bars, two concrete crawl-through barrels and three cement seals, only their snouts and eyes visible above the snow line, as if they were truly at sea.
Two Hispanic teenaged girls cocooned inside puffy coats and speaking through their scarves walked past the playground, talking to each other about various boys' hair. Ray attempted to catch his daughter's eye to see if she had overheard any of that but Ruby, embarrassed about being here, about not belonging here, studied her boots.