Walter Mosley,
The Man in My Basement
(Little, Brown & Co., 2004;
Back Bay, 2005)

When The Man in My Basement ends, Charles Blakey is not the man he was when it began. Black, young and drifting through his life, he drinks too much, has no job and undervalues his friends. He misinterprets the interest of the two old ladies across the street as avid curiosity rather than concern for him. The healthy one, Irene, keeps an eye on Charles as she sits smoking on her porch in the dark, unable to sleep.

The day Charles meets Anniston Bennet is the day he does a soul search. This amoral, weird white man wishes to rent Blakey's basement. Worse, he wants to become a prisoner and is willing to pay for a jailer's care if Charles will agree. Charles knows he ought to say no, but he needs the money.

In a surprising chain of events, Charles mends his ways. In a rush of energy, he cleans up his property, discards generations of family clutter and begins to wear his father's stylish old suits. When night comes, he cannot sleep. He stays awake, like Irene on her porch. It is easy to see the reason ... Bennet's memories are now his.

Charles owes a debt to Bennet for shocking him out of his malaise. A wake-up call is what it is (literally) and his resolve may be as ephemeral as mist. Still, it is not too late to chart a new course for a life that seems to be stuck in neutral. What happens next is up to Charles. It is really out of Bennet's hands.

A morality play -- shades of the Middle Ages -- is what The Man in My Basement resembles. A man filled to the brim with memories of his unsettling past, Bennet is a pitiful figure, but we share in Charles's judgment of him, ready to toss pity out the window as this gritty, tough story ends.

Walter Mosley writes so well that it looks easy. There is never a misplaced word or a contradiction -- just smooth, effortless, elegant prose all the way. He gives us something to think about as we sit on our porches unable to sleep.

- Rambles
written by Jean Marchand
published 3 September 2005

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