Friday, April 11, 2014

Walter Mosley: Little Green (2013)

I'm not a hundred percent sure what I think of the latest installment of Mosley's Easy Rawlins series.  The biggest surprise might just be that he titled it after a Joni Mitchell song:  and I doubt it's coincidence, given what Mitchell has said her song means, and that much of this book turns on an unacknowledged son of Mouse's.

I've written repeatedly that I'm mostly interested in the historical commentary these books offer:  each book carefully shows Easy interacting with historical and cultural trends specific to the year in which the book is set, making the series an ongoing commentary on black life in LA in the mid-20th century.  On that level, Little Green falls down a little bit.  It does the work - it has Easy moving among hippies and finding that the counterculture too contained racism, even as it held out the hope of moving beyond racism.  But I don't find it making any points in that regard that Cinnamon Kiss hadn't already made.  Perhaps since this is a reboot, Mosley felt he had to retread a little of this territory in order to provide a jumping-off point for the next installment.

Reboot.  I use that term guardedly.  Of course he's not nullifying any previous storylines, not reintroducing characters as if they've never existed before.  It's not a reboot in that sense.  But there's a lot about this book that suggests it's meant as more than just a continuation of the previous book, more than just picking up where that one left off.

And that's to Mosley's credit.  At the end of the last book he killed Easy off, or nearly so.  Bringing him back with a trivial explanation would have been forgivable, but he doesn't do that.  The whole book is really about Easy's rebirth.  For most of the book he's struggling with the physical aftereffects of his near-death and subsequent coma;  he's kept going only by a strange concoction provided to him by Mama Jo, the shamaness who followed Easy and Mouse to SoCal years before.  And that concoction - made of God-knows-what, maybe even dead white men (there's a hint in that direction at the end) - seems to trigger a spiritual and emotional rebirth as well.

Which means that this book has much in common with Gone Fishin'.  It's as much about backwoods mysticism as mystery-solving.  Ever since he brought Mama Jo to LA this has been a trend in these books, but never has it been as front and center as in this volume.

The result is a book that feels less like a meditation on history than a meditation on death and rebirth.  This is myth-making.  Which suggests it really is a reboot.  It leads me, at least, to expect the series, and its protagonist, to be a bit different from here on out.  I mean, I may be wrong.  But this feels like a transitional book to me.

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