The Glass Top-Hat

NYPD, cops

(photo: Nick Gulotta, Creative Commons license)

Loved this Alexandra Alter article about crime novelist Richard Price and his adoption of a pseudonym, in the hope of producing a quickie novel (and not suffer years over it!). Why not use his skills to dash off a plot-heavy, (shudder) “commercial” novel and reap the proceeds? In fact, he found out he is who he is, and the new book took just as much time and care as ever.

Price, interviewed this week on the PBS New Hour, is the author of the well-crafted and popular novels Freedomland, Lush Life, and Clockers. This pseudonymous endeavor has now emerged as his ninth novel, The Whites, which The New Yorker review by Joyce Carol Oates describes as “a maze of a novel” about a case that haunts NYPD detective Billy Graves. (The ghosts of unsolved cases are a universal occupational hazard for cops, as Price described it for PBS.) The book’s awkward parentage is displayed on the cover as “Richard Price Writing as Harry Brandt.” Even though The Whites came out only about two weeks ago, it’s already a hardcover fiction best-sellers (#5 on the NYT list in it first week).

“You realize you only know one way to write,” Price said during his New York Times interview. In keeping with his stripped-down approach, he did no new research, but instead called upon his extensive experience in ride-alongs with police and their lengthy conversations for his previous novels, as well as in his writing for HBO’s The Wire.

The whole pseudonym exercise was a failure, Price now says. “It seemed like a good idea in the beginning, and now I wish I hadn’t done it.” And, in a line for the ages: “This pen name is like pulling a rabbit out of a glass hat.”