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Stalking the Gramno


“So just devil’s advocate,” Ross said. “I mean, do we need another cop procedural at this point? Number one, I haven’t seen this every day since Hill Street Blues, since Cops, since motherfucking Matlock? Bad boys, bad boys? Since I was flipping past reruns of Starsky and Hutch with a fucking Rubik’s Cube in my lap? Number two, I’m supposed to care how some little esoteric club of grunt workers does their work, step by fucking step, with all the forms and red tape and lingo, the fucking office furniture? I mean, what next, someone writes an epic look inside the janitorial arts? A fucking book-review procedural?”

“They pull it off this good, boss?” Sanchez said. “I’ll read the fuckin’ trilogy.”

The door skipped open and, after an empty beat, Randolph Mayer scissored in on stiff legs, chief technician from the Quality of Literature analysis lab; crossed the room slow and crooked like he was walking on chopsticks; rumor was, sometime back in the whole Harry Potter craze, he ended up pinned between 8-year-olds at a big release party; left with grade-three paper cuts on both Achilles’. Bright red mullet. Ross called him the Scarlet Gimpernel.

“Just got the results from the Bullshit-Indicator Test,” Mayer said. “Thought you’d wanna know. Book came out almost totally clean.”

“Good,” said Ross. “We can rave it—1,000 percent pure positivity, for once. Another nego review, editorial’ll have my ass. Manna from fucking heaven.”

“Except, but boss?” said Mayer.

“Oh Christ.” Looked like a rat just chewed the cover off his autographed hand-revised first-edition Leaves of Grass.

“Three things, couple small, one big,” Mayer said. “One, the book can’t quite sustain the momentum of its prologue. Within a hundred pages or so you’ve got a 35, 36 percent slackage. Still nice and fast, but noticeable. Second, the mystery plot gets pretty busy, coincidence numbers flare up a coupla times into the red—everyone running into everyone else. Say, just hypothetical, a kid steals a bike on page 3, cops are sure to arrest him on page 50 for something unrelated, turns out he’s working for the vic’s landlord, lives next door to the perp, shops at the wit’s store, eats lunch with the vic’s dad. That kind of thing. Can feel manipulative. And third, well—I mean, we all hate hipsters, right? Even hipsters hate hipsters. But Jesus, man—Richard Price? Guy straight-out, fucking, detests, hipsters. Can work up a decent lather of sympathy for any subculture in the underworld: Junkies, drunks, liars, cops, murderers, thieves, real-estate kingpins—all human, complicated, explainable, damaged, worthy of respect. But hipsters? No. Makes for the only dishonest writing in the book: twenty intolerable pages of a bullshit hipster memorial service that comes off as pure cartoon satire—allegory of the infestation of the once-noble LES. I mean, I know hipsters aren’t exactly an oppressed class or anything, but still. Feels unfair. Kind of invalidates some of what he’s doing here.”

Stanny blinked hard, must have napped through two full minutes of conversation. When he opened his eyes, Hsu was watching him.

“So do we have a Gramno here?” Ross said.

There was a long silence, Mayo finger-drumming his binder.

“We got at least a fucking Very Goomno,” said Hsu; then, staring hard at Stanny like he was about to open fire. “Someone get the kid a fucking translator.”

Lush Life
By Richard Price.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 455 Pages. $26.


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