Walter Mosley: The Man in the Basement of Central Library

Among the renovations to Central Library made over the past two and a half years was the conversion of an old coal cellar into a new 250-seat auditorium for public programs and lectures. When I heard that Walter Mosley would be reading in this space, it seemed like the perfect excuse to pull down The Man in My Basement, a Mosley novel that’s been sitting on my shelf unread for a number of years (who knows why; it’s hard to say sometimes).

I’m sure glad I did. Demonstrating both sheer storytelling power and a knack for the bizarre, The Man in My Basement is part mystery, part Dostoevskian parable. It centers around Charles Blakey, the scion of a historic black family on Long Island, who has done little to nothing with his birthright. Fired from his job at a bank for embezzlement, Blakey spends his days drinking and reading science-fiction novels like “Neglect’s Glasses … about a kid in the ghetto who had found a pair of sunglasses somehow imbued with the intelligence of an alien race.”

Facing mounting bills and alienated from almost everyone he might turn to, Blakey has little choice when he receives a strange offer from a white man named Aniston Bennet. This man wants to pay Blakey a large sum of money to spend part of the summer in his basement. Blakey delays and dodges his “tenant,” unhooking his phone, living on whiskey and pizza, and living the shadowy half-life of a solitary child. But eventually, of course, he realizes he must confront the offer and the reality he has avoided. And when he takes Bennet into his home, Blakey reflects, “the world I knew receded like an unfinished novel whose story had become overwrought and tedious.”

It would be, um, criminal to reveal much more than this, but suffice to say that The Man in My Basement evolves into a complex and haunting meditation on history, power, and the nature of evil in the 21st century. And it does all this without ever failing to move and entertain. It’s a strange and original work that is also great fun to read.

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(photograph by David Shankbone)

I really had no idea how versatile a writer Mosley was until I checked the bibliography. Along with the Easy Rawlins series of detective novels for which he’s most famous, Mosley has written young adult works, speculative fiction, and erotica as well as several nonfiction titles and a play.

His most recent work, Little Green, resurrects Easy Rawlins from the car crash that nearly killed him at the end of 2007’s Blonde Faith. As Bruce DeSilva writes in the Associated Press, “the Easy Rawlins novels have always been distinguished by the writer’s remarkable literary style and the seriousness of his purpose, for these books have never been mere whodunits. Taken together, they are nothing less than a history of race relations in post-World War II Los Angeles. Little Green more than lives up to the high standard the author has set.”

Walter Mosley will be reading in Central Library’s auditorium on Thursday, May 23, at 7:00 PM. A book signing will follow with titles available for sale from Left Bank Books.

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