By Theresa Bennett
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On a Collision Course

This article is over 17 years, 6 months old
Review of 'The Man in My Basement', Walter Mosley, Serpents Tail £10.99
Issue 287

Walter Mosley’s latest novel is a brilliant portrayal of racial prejudice and the power relationships at play in global capitalism. This book draws on the author’s concerns about slavery and its bitter legacy. He uses this to highlight the importance of understanding the past in order to shape the future. Both these issues are raised in Walter Mosley’s brilliant non-fiction work What Next? and Working On The Chain Gang.

Charles Blakely is a black man who knows people think he is a worthless loser. With no job, dead parents, broken-down friendships and the threat to repossess his family home, Charles Blakely embodies the idea of loss. This unlikely hero does not even feel a sense of belonging within the community in Sag Harbor neighbourhood (near the Hamptons) where his family has lived for seven generations.

Walter Mosley skilfully uses Charles Blakely’s character to illustrate the divisions and tensions both between and within the black and white communities.

Charles Blakely’s problem of lost identity has no solution. He finds only brief respite from these bitter divisions in the intimacy of his friendships, family and his natural surroundings. His sense of alienation even extends into his personal relationships, with friendships that are riddled with rivalry and jealousy as a result of his feelings of inadequacy.

Blakely’s life reflects the different histories of black people within the US. This novel makes a case for the past of black Americans to be treasured and not just treated as a commodity through the buying and selling of artefacts.

In sharp contrast the ‘anonymous stranger’ and powerful capitalist Anniston Bennet appears to have it all. However, Mosley reveals that Anniston, just like the workings of global capital, has a darker side when you delve below the surface.

A sharp contrast is drawn between the rich white man Anniston Bennet, a capitalist success story, and the poor black man Blakely, who has done nothing with his life except fall upon hard times.

Anniston Bennet exposes his part in the world of systematic crimes that go unpunished in the global quest for wealth and power. The author uses his revelations to illustrate the brutality and hidden cost of the American dream. This also allows readers to redefine what success and failure are.

The controversial use of incarceration is turned on its head by the novel’s exploration of what crimes or actions are subjected to laws and punishment. Bennet’s riches and success leave him tortured and in search of some kind of redemption.

Charles Blakely and Anniston Bennet are driven together by the alienation and lies that are central to their lives. Neither man has ever experienced love or fulfilment. They reveal their true selves to each other and the reader. Unable to transform the system or find atonement, Anniston is caged and helpless.

This is a gripping novel for the times we live in, by a great storyteller. Readers are taken upon Blakely’s journey of discovery of the workings of the white world.

We encounter the moral dilemmas the two characters face as they confront the truth and abandon the deceptions they relied upon to instead ask, can people change? Can you make the world a better place?

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