- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Selected for Good Morning America's Read This! on June 5, 2003.
Ray - January 4
Entering Paulus Hook High School for only the second time since graduation twenty-five years earlier, Ray approached the security desk, a rickety card table set up beneath a blue-and-gold Christmas/Kwanza/Hanukkah banner, which still hung from the ceiling in the darkly varnished lobby four days into the New Year.
The uniformed guard standing behind the sign-in book was a grandmotherly black woman: short, bespectacled, wearing an odd homemade uniform of fuzzy knit watch cap, gray slacks and a commando sweater, a khaki ribbed pullover with a saddle-shaped leather patch straddling the left shoulder.
"You got a visitor's pass?" she asked Ray as he hunched over the sign-in sheet.
"Me? I'm here to guest-teach a class."
"They give you a teacher's ID?"
"A what?" Then, "No..."
Straightening up, he was struck with a humid waft of boiled hot dogs and some kind of furry bean-based soup that threw him right back into tenth grade. "Today's my first day."
. . .
With all regulation classrooms booked at this hour, Ray had been offered the faculty lounge to conduct his volunteer writers' workshop, but in his anxiety for this thing to come off he had shown up too early, walking in on four real teachers brown-bagging it around a long conference table that centered the room.
Despite his stranger status, not one of them even looked his way, and after standing inside the doorway for an awkward moment, he quietly maneuvered himself behind a large scuffed desk wedged into a corner and just sat there waiting for the period-ending bell.
The teachers, all men, seemed to be working their way through a hit list of rotten apples.
"Out. I talked with his mother and I think he's out of the house, too."
"Out. I just told him. I swear, that kid does 'Bewildered' better than anybody on two feet. 'Mr. Rosen, what I do? Suspended! Why?' Because you're on your own fuckin' planet, Edgardo..."
"How about Templeton..."
"I'm giving him one last chance."
"Aw, he got to you with that smile, huh?"
"Nah, nah nah, I just said, 'Hey Curtis, there's a new statute on the books-Consorting with Known Morons. I see you with Dukey, Ghost, or any of that crew? I don't care if it's a country mile from school property. You're vaporized.'"
"Don't worry, he understood me loud and clear."
They were either ignoring him or simply letting him be, Ray scanning the walls, taking in the student artwork; mostly crude cut-felt mosaics featuring idyllic tableaus of urban positivism: a black family eating dinner together, multicolored neighbors planting a community garden, big brown kids reading to little brown kids.
When the bell finally rang, the teachers at the table groaned to their feet, as reluctant to go back to the classrooms as any of the students.
Three of them filed out of the lounge without ever acknowledging him, but the last one made a stop at the desk, leaning forward on his knuckles to offer a confidence.
"I would rate ninety-six percent of the kids in this school from OK to great; the other four percent are just stone fucking assholes taking up space and there's nothing we can do about it."
Alone now, Ray took in the disembodied sound track of the students out in the halls, a steady murmurous stream of agitation, punctuated by squawks, bird caws and bellows.
Five minutes went by, the muffled hullabaloo gradually fading away out there, yet he found himself still facing an empty room.
To conceal from himself how awkward and vaguely embarrassed he was beginning to feel, he began fiddling with his cell phone; checking for messages, calling the sports hotline, the 970 weather forecast; played with his datebook; then scribbled down a few introductory notes for his phantom students; coming off busy as hell, yet when the school's principal, Bill or Bob Egan, knocked on the open door of the empty lounge, Ray almost shot to his feet with relief.
1. The novel begins as Ray tells his daughter Ruby a story from his boyhood in the Hopewell Houses. What is the significance of such stories for Ray? How good a storyteller is he? What is the effect of framing the plot within the story of Tweetie’s injury and his attempt to help her?
2. Chapter 5 gives an account of the information Bobby Sugar has gathered on Ray, including credit card charges and bank withdrawals, medical history, employment, address changes, etc. What does this chapter tell us about the way police detectives shape their view of a person and his or her possible motivations? How is that process similar to, or different from, the way a novelist creates a character?
3. Compare the book’s epigraph from Matthew 6:1–3 to the scene in which Ray, with Ruby present, gives Carla a check for the full amount of her son’s funeral [p. 109]. Ray’s ex-wife Claire comments, “Ray likes to save people, you know, sweep them off their feet with his generosity. It’s a cheap high if you’ve got the money, but basically it’s all about him” [p. 125]. How serious is this flaw in Ray’s character, and why does Price make Ray’s desire to help the novel’s central theme?
4. What is the effect of the novel’s structure—with chapters moving back and forth in time—on your reading experience? Why might Price have chosen to construct the plot in this way?
5. In one of Nerese’s many moments of insight, she muses about Ray:
“The constant white-black casting made her uncomfortable—no, made her angry; but that anger was tempered by the intuition that this compulsion in him wasn’t really about race; that the element of race, the chronic hard times and neediness of poor blacks and Latinos was primarily a convenience here, the schools and housing projects of Dempsy and other places like a stocked pond in which he could act out his selfish selflessness over and over…and that he was so driven by this need, so swept away by it, that he would heedlessly, helplessly risk his life to see it played out each and every time until he finally drew the ace of spades, or swords, and got the obituary that would vindicate him, bring tears to his eyes; key word, ‘beloved,’ if only he could figure out some way to come back from the dead long enough to read it.” [p. 215]
In Nerese’s view, Ray is driven primarily by narcissism, by an obsessive desire to be needed and to be thanked. Is her observation correct? Does this motive outweigh the good that Ray tries to do?
6. How incisive is Price as an analyst of race relations? In his desire to “give back,” is there any way for Ray to be comfortable about race, to enter his old community as an affluent white man offering help? Does Ray recognize that in giving Carla the money for the funeral he humiliates her, winning her resentment rather than her gratitude [pp. 109–110]?
7. Is Nerese the moral and emotional anchor of the novel? Why or why not? Given that she and Ray have come from the same place, how have they handled their lives differently? What are the differences in psychology of these two characters? What motivates them?
8. Discuss the relationship between Ruby and Nelson, two children of nearly the same age who are thrown together by Ray and Danielle’s sexual liaison. Why does Ruby refuse to apologize to Nelson when she hits him with the softball? What is the meaning of the story Ruby shares with Ray’s writing class [pp. 353–54]? Why does Price make children such a crucial part of the story?
9. Is Ray exploiting Danielle, or is she exploiting him in their sexual relationship? What motivates Danielle to involve herself and her son with Ray? She sees herself as an independent and self-motivated woman; Ray sees her as a woman who has chosen to stay in a marriage with a drug dealer [pp. 198–201]. Who is right?
10. Samaritan is a drama of redemption, or self-redemption. Why is shame referred to as one of Ray’s defining characteristics? Does he have good reason to feel ashamed of himself? Why does Ray need to redeem himself? How successful is he in his efforts to do so?
11. Who is the most likely suspect for the crime against Ray—Salim, Freddy Martinez, Danielle? To what degree is suspense—the “whodunit” quality—important in a novel like this?
12. How does the character of Salim come across? Why does Samaritan end with Salim, and a chapter called “Thank You” [pp. 370–77]?
13. Discuss Chapter 32, in which Nerese and Ray tell each other about their future plans. What do we learn about Nerese’s past and the way it shaped her life? What is she trying to tell Ray about adults’ responsibility to children? Does it seem that Nerese will be happier once she retires from the police department?
14. In a blurb for the hardcover Elmore Leonard stated, “I read Richard Price for the cool, spare sound of his writing, his words, the language he has in his bag that fits so exactly in his settings. The characters talk the talk.” Do you agree with his assessment? Find a few passages that exemplify Price’s strengths as a stylist and discuss their qualities with your group.
15. With Samaritan, Richard Price again reveals himself to be committed to writing novels that awaken his readers to raw and painful social problems. Charles Taylor commented:
“It seems to me that in reporting on some of society’s bedrock institutions (in this case, prisons and the police) and on communities that many of us are either cut off from or see solely in terms of social problems (thus robbing the inhabitants of their individuality) Price is doing work that we should expect from our major novelists. . . . Though Samaritan is his bleakest book, you put it down convinced he is trying to find, in the midst of racial and economic divisions, the things that we share. He’s the reporter-novelist as despairing humanist.” [Salon.com]
How powerful is Samaritan’s social vision? Does it have a message or a lesson for its readers? What questions and issues does the novel leave unresolved?
Posted May 1, 2007
Richard Price has written the thinking person's novel, Samaritan. The dialogue is excellent Price really catches nuance and tone. The book is populated with interesting characters who are fully fleshed out and complete. But above all this, the story is interesting and told well. When the climax arrived, I wasn't expecting it and the denoument is true to character. Read it. I'm giving it 4 stars I'd give it 4.5 if I could.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 29, 2003
Posted May 30, 2003
Richard Price is, at heart, a comic writer, and he can't resist riffing at the most dire and edgy moments. Price also happens to be one of the best dialogue writers going. 'Samaritan' is Dostoevsky with a sense of humor. The best parts of 'Samaritan' are Ray Mitchell's interaction with his teenage daughter, Ruby, and his girlfriend's son, Nelson. The scenes are touching and hilarious. I remember reading one of Price's earlier books, 'Ladies' Man', in the College of Charleston Library, and laughing out loud to the point of disturbing people seated nearby. The beginning of that book starts out with a Canterbury-Tales parade of no-count singers and comedians trying to get into a NYC club expressly set up to mock bad talent. The mix of compassion for and impatience with these loser/dreamers is what makes Price such a perceptive writer. 'Samaritan' has that same blend of compassion for and impatience with the characters, except Price has a lot more respect for small kindnesses in the characters than he used to, a sign of his more mature vision. 'Samaritan' is a philosophical, street-lyrical book that'll make you laugh and think all the way through.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 18, 2003
I jumped on the Richard Price bandwagon years ago with Sea of Love and Clockers. This author would have to work very hard to lose me as a fan. Samaritan is set in the same down-and-out housing project as Clockers. It's a neighborhood people move from, never to. Those who remain are suspect--they have to be damaged in some way, either financially or morally to not find a way out. The storyline surprises, and it doesn't. Readers who pride themselves on figuring out 'who done it' won't have to stretch too far with this story. The perpetrator's identity is not the payoff here. It's Price's ability to get inside people and make them so real, you can want to hug them and slap them at the same time. Yeah, just like the real people we all share our lives with. Samaritan is something of a morality play. Price never pretends that his hero is anything other than flawed and human. Very much like ourselves. We can read this story and learn from it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 22, 2011
No text was provided for this review.