Richard Price is the author of critically acclaimed crime novels like Clockers, Freedomland, Samaritan, Lush Life, and The Whites. I can think of no other writer in that field who gets as much respect from literary critics. He has elevated the suspense novel into high art.

It wasn't always that way. Price started out writing mainstream novels. I've read a lot of his work, and while the crime fiction is marvelous, I prefer the older books. Who can blame him for moving on to more lucrative stories. Whether it is in business, politics, or publishing, crime pays.

One of the most startling debut novels of all time is Richard Price's The Wanderers. This book is like holding a lit stick of dynamite in your hands. It could blow your head off at any time. The Wanderers is a hard, fast, dangerous piece of fiction that could never be published today. The language used and the situations Price employs in the story are socially unacceptable. I don't see it as being hateful or exploitative in any way. Price has always had a deft ear for dialogue. I'd be hard-pressed to come up with someone better at natural-sounding conversations. It isn't glorified or candy-coated. The world of The Wanderers is the world Price grew up in, and he tells the truth in his fiction.

The Wanderers is set in the Bronx in 1962. The title group is a gang of Italian-American youths. Boy-men, who are being raised in violent, alcoholic households. The guys are trying to find themselves in a dangerous world fraught with peril at every turn. There are rival gangs from different ethnic boroughs. Their parents are mostly insane. The cops hate them, and even their schoolteachers only seem to care when it's time to punish the boys.

This is a dark novel. It's foul and obscene. There is violence and nasty behavior. It's also side-splittingly funny. There is joy, fear, lust, rage, and desperation in its pages. The end is absolutely heartbreaking.

Despite the casual violence, the coarsely profane language, the sexist views about women, the bigoted attitudes, the boys are mostly innocent creatures. The madness and abuse at their homes, the hazardous streets, and peer pressure have molded them into the lives they are leading.

I read The Wanderers when I was in my early twenties. Now, decades later, I have read it again. I loved the book back then, and I appreciated it more this time. It's a raw novel, and Price developed a slicker style in his later books. He was twenty-four when he wrote it. People don't talk about The Wanderers a lot these days, but it created quite a sensation when it was published in 1974. I think the book is too candid, too brutally real, for today's sensitive readers.

Acclaimed director Philip Kaufman adapted The Wanderers into an excellent film in 1979. He did a fine job, but by necessity it is a watered-down version of the story. Maybe David Cronenberg could have pulled off a more faithful film had be attempted it in the 1990's.

Written by Mark Sieber

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