I don’t even really know where to begin with this one. Not because it’s a complex book. On the surface, it’s rather simple: 14 tales of an ex-con trying to make it in the underbelly of south central Los Angeles. No more, no less. No central plot except a man trying to survive.
But hell, man, this is a tale of living.
James Weldon Johnson once wrote in a poem: “Make me a world.” Walter Mosley does that.
I’ve had an interesting journey with Mosley’s work. I started with the Easy Rawlins series, only recently branching out to the Leonid McGill books and his standalones. I’ve seen his evolution as a writer. As I wrote in my most recent reviews of his stuff that came out in the aughts and 10s: he seems to have developed this certain style where his writing takes place on an ethereal plane, with existentialism sprinkled in every tale. His modern books are interesting, if at times unfocused.
This came out in the 90s, when he’d been at it for about a decade. And it’s one of those books writers tend to write in the middle of their careers when their full talent and ingenuity pass each other like the sun and moon during an eclipse.
This book is greatness. It’s Mosley’s best by far.
I can describe it but there’s nothing I can say that you can’t get from the book description: it’s about a poor ex-con named Socrates. He gets into difficult situations and deals with them in various ways. Every story feels self-contained. Most are connected. All of it is a world. You don’t root for or against Socrates. He’s not a great guy or a terrible guy. He’s a guy trying to make his way. It allows for the book to unfold in an incredible way. Mosley can use his story to examine social interactions, structural racism, philosophy…all of the things he normally tackles in his books. But here, it’s more focused, concise, with stakes and characters to get invested in.
This is a contender for book of the year.