22 May 2007

Old entry from the old site

From ReadingOnTheWeb, the predecessor to this blog. I add this here, because, Mosley's book is one of the best ones I've read in years.

Written 15 November 2002:

I had a 28-hour trip to Detroit recently.

I picked up a Walter Mosley book I'd heard of a few years ago.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned was reviewed favorably, but there was something about the comments in those reviews that put me off at the time even though I have generally liked Mosley's books very much.

It's not really a novel.

The book is a collection of stories that amount to an extended character sketch of Socrates Fortlow, a middle-aged man who spent half his life in prison. The stories are set in mid-1990s Watts, and Fortlow (like his ancient namesake) is in search of virtue and self-knowledge. The stories describe his gradually greater involvement with the community and his efforts to make his life count for something good.

Fortlow's conversation with an old couple who ran a bookstore in a nearly abandoned Watts strip mall is a significant glimpse of the book. Fortlow speaks first:

"They let me go 'cause all I did was kill black folks. They don't think that black folks are worth a whole life in a white man's jail. But I wasn't cured. I was still mean an' still confused. You know my main problem was that I was never sure what was right. You know--absolutely sure."

The Minettes both stared. Socrates was certain that they weren't afraid of him.

"But you did change?" Oscar Minette asked.

"Comin' down to your store. Listenin'...An' watchin' you two just sit back and lettin' it all happen. It was like I was seein' through your eyes. I'd let my mind be smilin' an' carin' 'bout people when I knew that they was wrong. Somehow watchin' you made me see myself. You know what I mean?"

"You're a good man, Mr. Fortlow..."

"Why you say that, Oscar?"

"Because you know...that there's something good in the world...and you want it."

"What good is this you talkin' 'bout?"

"Purpose, Mr. Fortlow. Purpose. We're all here for a reason. There's a divine plan. Good men want to find their place in the plan. That's you."

The book is full of such ruminations and the actions that Socrates Fortlow takes in his attempts to find good and be good.

This is an inspiriting book. It's a thoughtful book and I highly recommend it. It's in the library. It's on the bookstore shelves. Find it and read it.

  • John Chutterbuck's review in the Houston Chronicle

  • An admiring review from Herbert Huber in Germany (auf Deutsch)

  • An interview with Mosley about Socrates Fortlow as part of a reading group guide

  • A review from MostlyFiction.com

After reading Walter Mosley's book, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, I left it on Dan Conrad's dining room table because I thought he'd like it at least as much as I did. Here's what he wrote about it:

"I'm almost finished with the Mosley book. I began reading it on the heels of Jane Austin and at first the shift in style and lifestyle was almost too much.

"I plunged on, spurred by your recommendation and was soon completely caught up in it. What wonderful characters and characterizations. I found myself following my teenaged son, Jeremy around reading parts to him -- whether he liked it or not! Wisdom and writing excellence come in many guises! Thank you so much."

You're very welcome, and thank you, Dan.

Based on the results of passing books on to Jana Eaton, Carrie Lucking, and Dan, I guess I should try giving away more books.

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