Bloodbrothers - Richard Price / by Usamah Khan

"..But don't fuckin' jerk off yourself, sweetheart, 'cause twenty years from now you're gonna wind up just like yer old man with your fuckin' putz in your hand hanging out in some bar in Yonkers, married to some bitch with a heart like a piece of coal, and a kid for a punching bag, OK?"

Probably one of the most raw pieces of writing I've ever read. It's no wonder Richard Price, screenwriter of "The Wire" and most recently "The Night Of", is praised for his ability to develop such real characters in his writing. His ability to portray gritty, urban 20th century America with such realism set's him apart from his contemporaries. Maybe because he's so unafraid to draw from his experiences that you feel honesty in his writing. You trust that, what he's telling you is the way it is. I certainly felt that way with his portrayal of a lower middle class 1970s Italian American family from Brooklyn in "Bloodbrothers".

Dialogue is the driving force of the novel. It's easy to see how screenwriting came naturally to him. Sometimes, I find it hokey when accents are literally spelled out in writing. It can be distracting and oftentimes overly stereotypical. But it felt real in "Bloodbrothers". No doubt, due to his upbringing and his exact sense of what dialogue and culture was like in his community.

The whole book felt like a screenplay, and it's no wonder they were able to make a film adaptation of it a mere two years after it was published. Price has a way with understanding dialects, slang and specific terms used by certain factions of society. Looking back through the lens of already having watched "The Wire", I realized immediately how I was able to believe in his characters so easily. Even the ones who were over the top like Omar Little and Proposition Joe. The characters sounded real, so it was easy to forget the fiction.

While I admire writers who can write timeless pieces that can fit in to any time period, like I mentioned in my reflection of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, I also enjoy when something is so specific, you can only observe and immerse yourself in what the author is trying to tell you. Zadie Smith put it nicely when she said "I’m never interested in writing a kind of neutral, universal novel that could be set anywhere. To me, the novel is a local thing." "Bloodbrothers" was definitely a local thing.

I picked up the book expecting something different. A noir/crime novel perhaps? At the heart of it though, it was simply a coming of age family drama...of dramatic proportions. 

What stuck with me for a long while after reading was the fact that my sense of what was normal changed over the course of the novel. After a few pages I thought "man this is a fucked up family". But after reading more about Stony and his family, then Chubby and his kid and then the doctors understanding of Stony's situation I realized this was real for them. Despite everything, all the shit, the beatings, they were loved and loved each other. This was what family meant to them, and it was normal. So it became normal for me.

There's a band called Defeater that I like because their whole raison d'être and catalogue of music is to fulfill a concept. The concept is a story that goes from early to late 20th century dealing with a working class Bostonian family across generations that was very much like Stony's. They're a melodic hardcore band for the most part, but they put out an album, "Empty Days & Sleepless Nights" with an acoustic B-Side that had some of their most powerful songs. After finishing and putting down this book, all I could think about was this one song I had going through my head, and the last few lines. From "But Breathing":

"Well broken, and beaten
from the abuse, and cheatin'
the addiction, and the lying
And the promise of leaving
While my old man was a bastard
I admired
And loved him
And us two kids we were born in
To a family
Not a fortune."

Stony gave up his chance at a new life. But that was because of his pride, and his love for his family. Tommy and Chubby both had their chances too, but for the same reasons, they didn't take them. That's just the way it goes, and the way it was gonna end for Stony. I guess my idea of life is different, and that makes me appreciate it more.