My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fans of Mr. Mosley’s “Easy” Rawlins novels might be disappointed that there’s no mystery to solve, but that doesn’t take away from the true strengths of this book, which is a series of vignettes about life in Watts: about poverty, about race, about violence. They read to me as modern Socratic dialogues, an association I found hard to shake given the protagonist’s name is Socrates Fortlow, where each introduced a moral quandary or sorts, and then through the action and dialogue, revealed the main character’s — presumably also Mr. Mosley’s — philosophical ruminations on the challenges of being black in America.
From the outset, for example, Socrates shows a young black thief, who prides himself on only robbing rich people, how what he’s doing winds up hurting black folks — not that he’s convinced. We learn in Socrates’s exchange with the owners of a bookstore what’s ineffectual about black intellectualism. We learn through his patronage of a young boy his ideas what it means to be a man, and a black man in particular. (Black women, on the other hand, are kept somewhat at arm’s length — treasures to be fought for or terrors to be avoided.)
At barely 200 pages, it’s a short read, and it’s full of Mosley’s snappy prose, which is worth reading if you haven’t yet. But I have to admit, a few of the vignettes felt a little contrived and I had the sense I was sitting in a classroom rather than reading a work of fiction. However — and this is important — I learned something all the same, or at least I reaffirmed what I have learned from time to time, that as a white man I don’t always know what I think I know.