Walter Mosley,
The Man in My Basement
(Time Warner, 2004)

I've listened to some strange audiobooks. The Man in My Basement is close to the top of that list! The author, Walter Mosley, has definitely created a story that will make you think about life, the world and your place in it. What starts out as a seemingly normal story following the life of loser Charles Blakey ends up a philosophical journey into morality and just what, exactly, defines the bounds of civilization and humanity.

As the first of five CDs reveals, Charles Blakey has a beautiful, rundown house in a black suburb that has been in his family for generations. Having been without a job for nine months, and never feeling overly concerned about making ends meet, Blakey's life of constant drinking, bed hopping and ignoring mortgage payments is about to come to an end. Surprisingly, the catalyst for this change is a short, unassuming white man, Anniston Bennet, who wants to rent his basement for the summer.

Now, one might not normally rent one's basement to a complete stranger who pops up out of nowhere, but when you are counting out pennies to pay for a cup of coffee because you can't get a job, you maybe should get your cash where you can. Besides, for what Bennet is offering for a couple months' rent, Blakey could pay off his mortgage and live for a couple years, if he's frugal. In the process of cleaning up the basement for his tenant, Blakey runs across many antique items, including some ivory masks, which tell the story of his family and might be of interest to historians and collectors. The first couple of CDs reveal what Blakey finds out about his ancestors as well as his relationship with three girlfriends.

So far, the tale has followed a standard trail and there hasn't been much more mention of the basement. But then, Bennet shows up for his internment. Yes, I wrote and meant internment. You see, Bennet sent a cell for Blakey to construct. Bennet has created his own prison, complete with a warden, in order to pay for his crimes. Bennet sees himself above society's laws -- after all, no man has the right to tell another what to do. But he can't escape his own conscience.

You can't help but wonder, though, is he really paying for his sins when he is paying to be locked up? Maybe so. Blakey controls the keys, the lights and any food Bennet receives. On the other hand, Blakey works for Bennet, if you think about it.

What we get out of this book is the chance to see that even small actions, such as stealing a couple bucks from the bank you work at, can have big consequences. Our actions impact the world. No matter how far above the rest of humanity we think we are, we are still interconnected. While I feel Mosley has taken a strange approach to getting his point across, it is still a very interesting route. I am still digesting this story and will probably listen to it again to see what I missed. I would not be surprised if I missed the point on occasion as I was too wrapped up in the story itself.

Actor Ernie Hudson might be the perfect person to read the voice of Blakey. After all, Ernie played a warden on HBO's Oz. If you haven't seen that show, perhaps you remember Ernie from the movie Ghostbusters. Ernie has a little trouble with the white accents, but overall, is passable for the various characters found in the book.

At five hours, The Man in My Basement is a relatively short audiobook. The story at first might not be worth the money to you -- unless you like reading about unlikable, unambitious folks like Charles Blakey. In fact, you just might have to get to that last CD before your brain starts thinking about the bigger questions this story ultimately asks. In the end, however, more questions are asked than answered.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 12 June 2004

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