1992, Books, Fiction

Clockers (1992) by Richard Price

This is a crime thriller/murder mystery novel that actually turns out to be a tragedy instead. It is artfully done and feels really authentic, at least to someone like me (who knows nothing of this kind of thing).


The novel is told from two different perspectives, the drug deal and homicide detective, which allows the ostensible mystery to unfold in different ways but more importantly allows us to see both this part of New Jersey and the main characters from different, contrasting perspectives. This gives the novel a greater sense of balance about the subject matter, as it’s easy to see a lot of one-sided interpretations of what happens if it’s only from one of the two protagonists’ perspectives. Price does this pretty artfully, using the contrasting chapters to both broaden the world and increase tension at the same time. It’s well done.

I cannot speak to how accurate any of this is. I was 11 in 1992 and, moreover, I am a white guy from Toronto. I have no idea if Price has actually captured the world of a young black drug dealer in Jersey City or Newark, or even a 40-ish detective. But it feels pretty authentic to me. Spike Lee clearly thought it was authentic. (Though so much of this novel has infused police-related media, most obviously The Wire that’s very hard to separate that from any perceived reality.)

As we got closer and closer to the climax, I wasn’t sure where this was going. It seemed less and less likely that the murder mystery aspect of the story would have a satisfying conclusion, and then Tyrone kills Barnes and we soon learn there was no mystery. I really, really admire Price for this. It’s a hard thing to pull off and it’s the kind of ending that a lot of people won’t like. But it absolutely feels true to the characters and place and it’s the kind of ending that makes the book so much more than just another crime novel. Like so much great fiction, it’s a reminder that the world is messy and full of all these imperfect, rudderless people. We’re so used to fictional characters that have some kind of master plan and some kind of direction and can execute it. Much of the best fiction reminds us that humans aren’t really like that. They’re much more like this.

Pretty great.


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