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Posted: July 5, 2020

An intelligent and damning look at a world we’ve allowed

Book Review

By Derryll White

Price, Richard (1992).  Clockers.

Richard Price takes the reader into the harsh life of the pipeheads; the inner city turmoil of crack-smoking adolescents who have the streets and no future. His is a land of knockers and clockers – cops and dealers. It is a harsh New Jersey/New York environment with no ready way out for most of those born there. The whole of the novel is insightful given today’s race protests and divisive actions.

But the author is also an unrequited romantic, a searcher for the souls locked up in the wilderness of urban black ghettos.  He uses his ear for language and his large writing gift to let his characters speak for themselves in totally believable voices – both the users, dealers and the cops doing (or not) their jobs. Richard Price’s hidden gift is his heart, his desire to relate to the characters he salvages from the streets and re-creates on paper.

In the end “Clockers” is a sad tale, a nihilistic journey into the strengths of some but the despair of most inner-city black residents. The author puts it all on the line – choice, love, family.  No human value is spared.

The story is an existential bus ride through the world of drugs, power and human indignity.  Price’s language is unforgiving, direct and realistic. He takes the reader inside places and possibilities that one might not choose to go voluntarily.  At every step the author asks, “Could you do this, this job, this life?” Richard Price offers an intelligent and damning look into a world we have permitted to exist through our own sense of neglect and uncaring. Indeed, strong language!

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Excerpts from the novel:

DEALING – The cops bullshitted each other.  The dealers bullshitted each other, the cops bullshitted the dealers, the dealers bullshitted the cops, the cops took bribes, the dealers ratted each other out.  Nobody knew for sure which side anybody was on; no one really knew how much or how little money anybody else was making.  Everything was smoke.  Everything was pay phones in the middle of the night.  Being in this business was like walking blindfolded through a minefield.

HOMICIDE DICK – Rocco finally walked in at 2 a.m., knotted, loaded, hallucinating the smell of a scene on him, that sweet, husky, close smell of an indoor homicide, like watered-down Old Spice or a sweating fat lady – not altogether unpleasant, kind of intimate, the smell of a whole life opened up to him with all its embarrassments and little drawers.

DAUGHTER – Rocco was gripped with the panic he often experienced around her, around himself.  He seemed to be both here now and simultaneously five years in the future looking back at this moment, at the loss of this moment.  He was always sliding past the newness of being with her, throwing himself at her like a cranked-up insincere clown for an exhausting fifteen minutes a day or getting cozy with booze in order to achieve the proper mood, and from the time she was born he had felt that he was on his deathbed, remembering with regret how skittish and slippery his time with her had been.  Had been, as if she were a hard thirty-seven and divorced instead of a two-year-old baby, as if he were 68 and senile instead of 43 and slightly overweight.

USA – “Don’t you believe that shit.  This whole country run by animals – Wall Street, the government, the po-lice.  How you think the dope gets in town to begin with?  Don’t get me started.”

CRACK – His voice was a head-over-heels gobble, his tongue flickering across his lips, his head jerking like a turkey, right, left, right.  Rocco tried to estimate how long the guy had been on the street.  He still had some good prison muscles on him, so he must’ve just got out; the pipe melted weight lifters down to nothing but a cobblestone gut in only a few eeks.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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