After writing novels located primarily in the Bronx and New Jersey, New York-native Richard Price has written a new novel, Lush Life, that captures the vivacity of life and language in Manhattans Lower East Side. Dissents Jon Wiener (The Weatherman Temptation, spring 2007) interviewed him this month.
Jon Wiener: Lush Life involves several worlds that exist side by side on the Lower East Side todaytell us about them.
Richard Price: Right now it seems like the place belongs to young, white middle-class kids in their twenties. Its become their Montparnasse. But theres also a big housing project population. There are tenements that havent been caught up in the real estate rehabbing game, and they are filled with Hispanics and Chinese and old hippies. There are the orthodox Jews, who are in a world unto themselves down there. And there is this huge population of Fujianese immigrants, some of whom are undocumented. All these people are occupying the same sidewalks and not really aware of each others existence.
J.W.: What did you learn about the Fujianese immigrants?
R.P.: Theyve got it really tough. Historically, the Lower East Side had the highest population density in the world circa 1900. Forget Calcutta. And that was mostly Eastern European Jews. But the Fujianese are living just like that, cheek and jowl, while in the next building are yuppies with a floor-thru that cost two million bucks. The burden that these guys have, that nobody before them had down there, is that they have to pay somebody to smuggle them into the country. So the minute they step off the boat they are $70,000 in the hole to the snakehead who got them over. On top of everything else, working seven days a week, theyve got to pay off a mammoth debt.