03 April 2007

Another in a long series

A May or two ago, I picked up a book to read for fun. I'd picked it up a couple weeks earlier and started it one night on my way to sleep. It started to suck me in right off the bat, and I knew I didn't have time to finish it So I put it back on the pile until I was up at the cabin called Sidetrack. I finally read it, though it almost kept from a decent night's sleep again.

I found this book on a temporary table at the grocery store. I guess there weren't enough out dated products to fill up the aisle, so they filled a table with books. It was like finding a Chinua Achebe novel at Target or a Laurie R. King novel at Wal-Mart (both of which I've done).

The book was Bad Boy Brawly Brown (an Easy Rawlins novel) by Walter Mosley. For a time context, let it be noted that I first discovered Mosley's novels about the same time newly-elected Bill Clinton was photographed carrying an early Mosley novel down the steps from Air Force One. Some have been great. One has been terrific. Others have been so-so. Rather like my teaching days.

Mosley always tells a story directly and succinctly. And it's that kind of beginning that sucks me into them quickly. This one concerns the ongoing story of Easy Rawlins and his attempts to be a good man in an imperfect world. Haunted by the apparent death of a boon companion who was also a dangerous companion, Rawlins is asked by John, a long-time friend to “rescue” the son of John's girlfriend.

The complications involve race relations in LA in the late 1950s, idealistic and radical racial politics, and human frailties. And there's Rawlins' children, his job, and his girlfriend.

It's a great quiet tale even though there are dangerous adventures. It's quiet because Easy Rawlins has become thoughtful, analytical, and methodical as he's gotten older. And, while at one moment in the story he celebrates “being able to lie again,” he gets a lot more mileage out of telling the truth.

Mosley also uses the story to teach. Like this lesson:

“He looked me up and down, decided by some unknown calculations that I wasn't a threat, and said, 'Colonel Lakeland. Come with me.'

“He turned and walked back through the buff doorway.

“As I followed, I experienced a familiar feeling of elation. It's a reaction that black people often have when going into the slave master's quarters. In there, we imagine, is the place where freedom resides. And if we get the chance, maybe we could pick up a little of that most precious commodity when the man is otherwise occupied.

“I smiled at my silly delight.”

The book is well worth the time I spent with it, especially since I could put it down and look at the lake and the eagles flying over it. I am glad I had the strength to put it down and get a good night's sleep. How else could I have gotten all the windows washed in this cabin by the lake?

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