17 December 2012

The Man in My Basement, Walter Mosley


 
Charles, a black man with no job and no future is approached by Anniston, a mysterious white man with a strange request. He wants to rent Charles's basement for four months and offers $50,000 which to Charles represents salvation from his creditors.
 
While straightening out the basement in preparation for his lodger, Charles discovers hundreds of items stored by his long dead ancestors, artefacts which an expert tells him are very valuable as they represent a significant period in Negro history.
 
Anniston moves in and takes up residence in the basement as a willing prisoner in a specially constructed metal cage. After selling some of his heirlooms Charles is no longer so financially dependent on Anniston and subtle changes take place in their relationship. The author introduces themes of race, sin and atonement and in a curious role reversal there are echoes of black slavery with Charles the black gaoler and Anniston his white prisoner.
 
This is a deceptively simple book yet is in fact multi-layered and dense with allegory. As a modern fable, the tale which unfolds is eerie and unsettling. Mosley's writing is precise and uncluttered and he has created memorable characters here.

2 comments:

Russell Duffy said...

I read this review on your Shelfari site. I have heard good things about this author. His style is much admired as being one of the better creators of crime/thriller fiction but also being able to move out of that genre to embrace other forms. Thi story is intringung as it seems to work on many levels. It has an ironic slant on race; it appears to to tackle highly human relationships but also seems to offer an intelligent alternative to the typical thriller. It would be so easy to drop into a 'Panic Room' type scenario but from what you say this seems far more subtle than that.

Perfect Virgo said...

Mosley is new to me and I see he writes mostly in the detective genre with a regular cop in a lengthening series. I have a couple of those on hand but so far I've just read some of his stand alone novels.

The Man in My Basement is a very clever work which doesn't fall into the trap you mentioned. It manages to remain authentic yet at the same time explores some unusual and delicate themes.

The Wave is an intriguing work. It has the same slacker-type as a central character but it quickly veers into slightly old-fashioned science fiction. I liked it. I thought its main theme was an expose of how the human race has grown a tendency to stamp out anything it doesn't understand rather than try to learn and develop.