Thursday, August 10, 2006

fortunate son

Fortunate Son, Walter Mosely.
I've read other things by Mr. Mosely. His most popular titles reside on the mystery shelf and concern one E.Z. Rawlins, a school janitor who does a little freelance private eye work, set in the South of the 1940's. The shade of Zora Neal Huston haunts them. They're good books, damned good, but this one is amazing.

Now I'm having problems trying to describe this book. I will admit right up front that I'm biting off way more than I can chew. The best I can do for you here is to describe my experience of reading it. I'm afraid that doesn't make for much of a book review. It does mean that Mosely is a better writer than I have the ability to quantify.
This is a miraculous piece of writing.

First of all, I cannot tell you with complete assurance who the central characters are. Could be three of them. There are probably two; there might be only one. That one could very possibly be the author, and by that I mean the unseen writer, not Walter Mosely the personality. It's very like Indonesian shadow puppets in this way: we are not on the side where the shadows act out the story, but the other side, the one which frankly admits the presence of the puppeteers without even the apology of dark clothing.

On the surface this is a story of brothers parted and reunited and the lives they lived in the interim. Life is not terribly kind to these two men. We aren't spared anything. And if that was the only level upon which the story existed it would be enough. The recounting holds you hostage. Touch it and it rings; it sounds that true. And that holds true for every man and woman who walks across the stage as well.

Mosely draws his charactors without visible effort. Each person stands out exactly like the subjects of a Diane Arbus photograph do: very stark, very detailed, more real in black and white than color could make them, but at that same distance from us as well. Mosely makes no appeals on behalf of, or in opposition to any one player. He simply places them onto the table one at a time.

The dominance of Fate is central. Now normally this is something I have a big problem with in a book, believing as I do in self determination. Fact remains that none of these characters are the captain of their own ship, not completely. Fortune and love are irresistable and dispassionate, overwhelming forces in these peoples' lives...but they neither save or condemn the people driven by them. This isn't Bronte. And for me, that saves the narrative. Mosely moves the pieces around the board with complete impassivity. It's chilling, and it takes your breath away.

In the end I simply can't tell you that it 'meant' any one thing conclusively, or if it meant any one thing at all, other than 'some people had some things happen to them and it turned out so'. That could very well be the case; in fact I strongly suspect that it is.
And that is rather repellent.
And rather wonderful, too.
Because after all, Mosely knew what the outcome would be from the start.
God damn, this man can WRITE.


  1. Anonymous1:33 PM

    Sounds amazing. You've certainly captured my interest. I'll have to head off to a book shop now. Well, tomorrow. Or soon. I finished my last batch of books, so I was looking for something new. Excellent.

  2. I'm a Mosely fan. Try "The Man in My Basement." A departure from his usual style. Bizarre, disturbing, compelling.

  3. Oooh I spy a new author for the beasts book shelf.I just finished the black dahlia which I really enjoyed and tortilla flats by stienbeck which I didnt , is it just me or did it really read a bit like winney the pooh ????

  4. qenny: it's worth looking for.
    mj: i saw that title on the book jacket and had decided to look for it! i'm glad mosely isnt just dipping around with genre fiction...he's someone who actually has something to say.
    beast: i don't know it you're joking or not, but for the record i found Tortilla Flats to be cute, self-conscious and paternal. something he should be dug up and slapped for.

  5. Thats the mystery of the beast...was I joking or not....I will be there for the slapping tho :-)

  6. Anonymous12:41 PM

    I hate stuff like this. It makes me regret that teetering stack of books that I already have next to my bed waiting to be read. Oh well. Guess there will be one more...

  7. I am intrigued and fascinated as well as scared all in one go! You definitely have a knack with your book reviews! Had I time to actually read I would be picking it up fo sho but as is, *sigh*, I am lucky if I go to the bathroom on my own!

  8. very interesting, adding it now...

  9. What? You have time to read and crit. novels as well as demolish art history ivory towers, and grow stuff?
    I will say this only once: Mayor.
    Agree with mj on 'Man in Basement'. Ooh, a theme - Jonathan Rabin's 'Waxwings' is also good for basements, and it's set in Seattle.

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