Friday, August 27, 2010

Walter Mosley: A Red Death (1991)

I like this one as well as the first one, I think, which is saying something. In some ways I might have enjoyed it more because I came at it innocent of any expectations set up by a movie.

It intrigues me that Mosley jumps ahead in time five years for the sequel. It surprises me, because I thought immediate postwar black LA was such a rich milieu - I was ready for four or five more books exploring that particular moment, its fleeting promise and fresh disappointment. Mosley seems to have decided to go broad rather than deep, though: by jumping up five years and setting this in the middle of the Red Scare, he seems to be setting himself the task, not of sketching every nuance of black life in one time and place, but of showing how one black life interacts with larger historical trends. It's a good trade-off, even though I'm apprehensive about future volumes that take the series into the '70s; Wattstax-era LA would seem to offer such a radically different aesthetic that I just don't know how Easy'll fit in. But then, I imagine that's part of the point.

I also like how compromised Easy is at the end of this book. He's made deals with two or three devils, broken any number of promises he half-made to himself. Is this a subversion of the knight-errant theory of noir? Or is it an established part of the genre that the hero can't remain untouched by the moral corruption of the world he lives in? Whichever, I found Easy's compromises pretty emotionally affecting. However tough Philip Marlowe had it, Easy's got it tougher - because he's black, so (for example) cops are not just obstacles, they're antagonists. It's like the old line about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.

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