three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-ManBasementCharles Blakey, a 33-year-old African American, has a debt and a drinking problem. Fired from his job, he has "lied and been called a liar and then lied again to cover other falsehoods." Frittering his days away, he's in danger of losing his family's house in the Hamptons. Then a mysterious white man, Anniston Bennet, makes him a strange offer. Unable to pass up $50,000, Blakey becomes warden to Bennet, who's decided to imprison himself in a cage in Blakey's basement in order to atone for his sins. "Think of the worst crime you can image and then make it worse," he says. "And then you will have a glimmer of what I have done." Slowly, through intense conversations, this odd couple inches toward redemption.
Little, Brown. 249 pages. $22.95.

Minneapolis Star Trib 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a genuine pleasure to get your hands on any book written by Walter Mosley, a man who knows how to tell a story, how to create a character, and who has you hooked from page 1." Mickey Pearlman

Detroit Free Press 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Charles discovers that he can't take anything he hears on face value, and I would give you the same advice in reading Mosley, where the links and metaphors are buried to explode later. The Man in My Basement is not an easy work, but it is a rewarding look at how the unspeakable can be turned into everyday talk." Marta Salij

DFW Star-Telegram 3.5 of 5 Stars
"From start to nearly the end, The Man in My Basement is gripping. It is also thought-provoking, beautifully written and filled with believable and fetching characters."Geoffrey A. Campbell

The New Yorker 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A compelling, peculiar exploration of race and identity...it has a subtle sense of humor that leavens the philosophical inquiry. ...It's no easy task to stuff a novel full of philosophy and still allow for characters and plot, or, indeed, readers." Ben Greenman

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Nothing is ever quite followed through, and the book itself closes without any real conclusions, or even a single clear question. ... The Man in My Basement has, in many ways, the unfinished quality of real life, or I suppose, of a rough draft of fiction, which is what life is, after all." Jim Krusoe

Los Angeles Times 1 of 5 Stars
"Just as clearly [as Mosley is restaging a timeless philosophical debate], he's erecting a narrative structure so schematic it threatens to crush the story beneath it. Black and white, rich and poor, power and impotence, the oppositions are too neat, too easy and so is Bennet's transformation into a source of paradoxical wisdom." James Marcus

NY Times 1 of 5 Stars
"This is a book that masquerades as a literary thriller and as a philosophical fable, but is not concentratedly strange enough to provoke tension or intelligent enough to provoke reflection. Mosley's book, intended as an exposure of the banality of evil, suffers instead from the evil of banality." Robert Macfarlane

Critical Summary

This relatively short novel asks a lot of its readers, more so, even, than Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries or more serious fiction, plays, and essays. His two unlikely (and largely unlikable) heroes are left to tackle such huge questions as the nature of evil and redemption, guilt and punishment, power, ambition, and America's role in the world. Some critics found that the book did not dig deep enough or come close enough to offering any concrete conclusions, and they criticized the overly philosophical dialogue. Others felt that Mosley masterfully integrated his powerful prose with a provocative, page-turning story that constitutes nothing less than a masterpiece. Where some saw emptiness, others found brilliance. Maybe that's the point.