Gone Fishin'

Charles Taylor reviews Walter Mosley's detective novel "Gone Fishin'".

Published January 17, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

The '60s black power revolutionaries learned the effect that macho posturing wrapped up in racial resentment could have on guilty white liberals, and apparently so has Walter Mosley. Perhaps the extraordinary acclaim that's greeted each entry in Mosley's Easy Rawlins series of detective novels has to do with the way he shows us what Chandler didn't: black life in Los Angeles during the '40s and '50s. But the books themselves aren't much more than the usual hardboiled fantasy, masochistic and narcissistic in equal measure. Easy is the tough-guy martyr who has to take more than his dose of punishment before meting out retribution. Mosley lingers on the beatings and the pain like a kid who can't keep from poking a loose tooth, and his subtext is pretty obvious: Easy's lickings are symbolic of the spiritual beatings a black man takes every day. And the thugs who dish it out aren't even the worst villains. That honor is reserved for the white (or half-white) women who exist to lure poor black men to their doom. (That's exactly the nonsense Carl Franklin got rid of in his sensational film of "Devil In a Blue Dress.")

In the new "Gone Fishin'" -- a series prequel about Easy and his murderous pal Mouse in the backwoods of 1939 Texas -- Mosley seems to be aiming for Hemingway and Faulkner. It's a Southern gothic about an innocent made to see the evil of the world as he learns his capabilities and limits. Mouse hires Easy to be his chauffeur on a trip to get money out of Mouse's stepdaddy. Chaos and carnage ensue (Mosley is particularly fond of animal killings, the cheapest way to get a response out of a reader), all of it dense with Hard Life Lessons. "I couldn't live with those people anymore. They were living on the edge of despair ... It was a deadly line we had to walk and the only thing that kept us going was some kind of faith. Either you believed in God or family or love. I didn't believe in any of those things anymore. Maybe I never had."

Do people fall for this stuff because the idea of a black writer of hard-boiled fiction is a novelty, or because that clipped, faux Hemingway prose makes Mosley's phony hard truths go down easier? He may not have it as cushy as Mouse, who boasts of "a hundred women to suck my dick." But a hundred critics to kiss his ass ain't hay.

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

MORE FROM Charles Taylor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------