10 August 2006

Seeing Beyond Black and White: An Appreciation of Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley is among my favorite authors; I have read most everything he has written starting with his mystery Devil in a Blue Dress which I picked up many years ago now, when I still lived in Evanston, Illinois. I can’t say why I picked it up, but I remember too the wonderful bookstore where I bought it, "Great Expectations" which, I think, has unfortunately since gone out of business. In any case, I have recently noticed a feature of his fiction about which I have been dimly aware. Mosley nearly always introduces his African-American characters by color, using an extremely varied palette. Here are some examples from the book I am currently reading - The Man in My Basement.

The protagonist of the novel is a slightly down-on-his-luck thirty-three year old black man Charles Blakey. His slightly nosey neighbor is "Irene Littleneck, eighty years old and black as tar." His running buddies Clarence and Ricky are cousins. Charles describes the former as being "tan-colored," and the latter as "darker than his cousin but not nearly my color." His Uncle Brent, late and unlamented, had been "a deep brown color, with thick lips that were always turned down as if he had a bad taste in his mouth." Lainie Brown, "a heavyset woman with auburn skin", had been Charles's co-worker and sole friend among the otherwise white employees at Harbor Savings, the bank from which he'd been let go under suspicion of petty embezzlement. Jane Sadler, a woman with whom Charles recalls spending a moment of passion "had skin the color of mine and bright eyes and long curly hair." Charles remembers his mother vividly and fondly and his father less distinctly - "a big hole in my memory, a hole where there was a yearning." Both are deceased; she had "a long face and coffee-and-cream-colored skin" while he was "[m]uch darker ... strong ... with big hands and a giant's laugh." Narciss Gullly, an antique dealer who becomes the object of Charles' affections, has a complexion that is "brown, mostly dark brown, but here and there it lightened a little, lending a subtle texture to her skin." Finally, Bethany, the woman whose charms Ricky seems intent on exploring is a large woman whose "face was wide and the color of dark amber."

And I am only on page 88 ... The point is that the world is colorful and Mosley regularly reminds us of that. Although it is a theme in all his work, Mosley's writing works to make our views of race more complex and subtle. It is not just that Mosley reminds us that "black" Americans come in various hues, but also, as was recently pointed out to me, that their social and political and economic and cultural experiences are equally or perhaps more diverse. This may seem a commonplace. In a sense it is. You should read Walter Mosley if you have not already. By helping you appreciate this commonplace, he will help you think beyond black and white.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

cool post - thanks

10 August, 2006 21:34  

Post a Comment

<< Home