Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Walter Mosley: Bad Boy Brawly Brown (2002)

Here's why I love Walter Mosley:
BobbiAnne had big, upstanding breasts and broad shoulders, crystal blue eyes and a stomach that protruded just slightly.  All of this worked to make her more attractive as the moments went by.  She was the kind of girl who would turn beautiful on you overnight.
This is from p. 119 (Warner paperback) of Bad Boy Brawly Brown, the seventh Easy Rawlins book, and Mosley's return to the series in 2002 after a five year break.  It's a good book, maybe not the best in the series but a worthy entry.  And I love it for that.

But mostly what I love is his writing.  This is the real hardboiled deal.  That's a perfect paragraph.  Look how it progresses.  The first sentence is concrete description - carefully chosen details that make it so you can see BobbiAnne in your mind's eye.  And what details - they establish BobbiAnne as something other than your run-of-the-mill beauty (of which there are none in Mosley - they're all unique, like this).  The second sentence wastes no time in moving from the concrete and factual into the mind of the observer, the narrator Easy, as he responds to these details.  We're in the middle of the stream of his consciousness - time's passing, and his perceptions are changing - but there's utter clarity about all of it.  And the third sentence completes the move from the particular to the universal, as Mosley delivers to us one of those classic noir statements about existence:  that some girls will turn beautiful on you overnight.  And all that that implies, not just about sex, but about the whole shebang.

I see two main thematic developments in this installment of the series.  One is external:  it's 1964, and part of Easy's milieu is the emerging Black Power movement.  Not quite called that yet, but still it's something more assertive than MLK, and more streetwise than the beatnik Garveyites that he's encountered before.  You can sense Mosley laying the groundwork here for an assessment, through Easy's eyes, of the black experience of Mosley's own (b. 1952) formative years.

The other is internal.  Mouse is dead, or so everybody thinks throughout this book.  It happened at the end of the 5th book, and that's why we took the detour into the past of Gone Fishin'.  Hints are dropping right and left that maybe he's not really dead - nobody's seen the body - but what's most important is that Easy thinks he's dead, and that it's his (Easy's) fault.

Which means that throughout this book he's dealing with that guilt.  But what's more interesting is that he starts to hear Mouse's voice in his head.  Up to now he's had Mouse at his side as the Stagger Lee figure:  Easy knows he's only survived this long because of Mouse, and Mouse's implicit (often explicit, actually) threat of violence.  But Mouse's presence has also allowed Easy to distance himself from the violence of his life.  Now, with Mouse gone, not only does Easy have to consider how to survive without that threat, he finds himself urging himself, in Mouse's voice, to do the violence that Mouse would have done.  Kill him, Mouse urges in encounters with cops or thugs.  This is new for Easy, and worrisome.  He's internalized Mouse - internalized the threat of violence and destruction.  The stakes for Easy all along have been: can he survive without losing his soul?  Having Mouse in his head raises those stakes considerably.

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