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The Man in My BasementReview - The Man in My Basement
A Novel
by Walter Mosley
Time Warner Audiobooks, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Sep 24th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 39)

Walter Mosley's short novel The Man in My Basement is an intriguing and dark piece of fiction. Its narrator is Charles Blakey, who lives in an old black neighborhood in a secluded area on the eastern end of Long Island. He lives in his family home on his own, and he has no income because he was fired from his job at the local bank for stealing. Yet when a middle-aged bald white man, Anniston Bennet, first turns up on his doorstep asking to rent the basement for the coming summer, Blakey turns him down. He is a proud and private man, and does not want his routine interrupted. Yet Blakey is also unhappy, drinking too much and alienating his friends. As he becomes more desperate, he reconsiders his decision and comes to an agreement with Bennet. In order to be able to rent the space, Blakey has to clean it out, and in the process, he stumbles across old family relics that remind him of his heritage. According to family lore, his family had never been enslaved, and this was a matter of pride. Yet Blakey proceeds to put up his family treasures for sale at auction and local stores in the Hamptons, and they raise a good amount of money because they are highly collectable. Blakey also starts a flirtation with the woman who works as his agent. This brings out one of the striking themes of the novel; Blakey at the same time is powerfully attracted to women but has never fallen in love and seems unable to overcome his own isolation.

Another theme of the novel concerns guilt, reparation and necessary evil. It comes up in ordinary ways at first, such as Blakey's theft from the bank and his refusal to admit his crime to even his friends, and Blakey's behavior towards his stepfather when the man was dying. However, the theme is crystallized when Bennet finally moves into the basement, and Blakey learns more about the mysterious wealthy white man. Bennet says he is spending the time in the basement to pay for his own crimes, but he won't say what they are. The story moves into a play of power between the white man and the black man, and thus it becomes an exploration of the relation between races.

It is not so clear that Mosley's exploration answers any questions, and as a literary work, The Man in My Basement has dubious success. The highly secret activities of Anniston Bennet make the reader wonder whether he is some kind of unlikely James Bond figure. Bennet argues that there are terrible things to be done behind the scenes in order for ordinary people to keep their everyday happiness, and indeed he seems to have a Nietzschian disdain for common folk. But their discussions make Blakey wonder and eventually his relationship with Bennet changes him. It is a gripping tale, but exactly how the themes of race, gender, money, and heritage all fit together in the novel is elusive.

The audiobook is performed by well-known actor Ernie Hudson who does an excellent job. At occasional, maybe crucial, points in the performance, ethereal piano music fades in, which is somewhat distracting and odd. Nevertheless, Hudson brings the characters alive and manages to make Charles Blakey a sympathetic man despite all his faults.

 

2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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