Hailed as a masterpiece-the finest work yet by an American novelist of the first rank-The Man in My Basement tells the story of Charles Blakey, a young black man who can’t find a job, drinks too much, and, worst of all, stands to lose the beautiful home that has belonged to his family for generations. But Charles’s fortunes take an odd turn when a stranger offers nearly $50,000 to rent out Charles’s basement-and soon, as the boarder transforms the basement into a prison cell, Charles finds himself drawn into circumstances almost unimaginably bizarre and profoundly unsettling.
I’m not sure why Walter Mosley’s The Man In My Basement is one of my favourite books. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s a short read, or maybe the fact that it’s a short read for such a hard topic. Either way, this is one book you must read.
The Man In My Basement is the story of Charles Blakey, a young black man who has inherited a large house from his parents. He’s down to his last few dollars, has been blacklisted among the community and can’t find a job, and is wondering what he can do to make some money to pay for his living. Right when he feels down on his luck, he’s propositioned by an older white man, Anniston Bennett, who wants to rent out the cellar. When Blakey finally agrees to take up Bennett’s offer, he enters a world he did not expect.
I had read this book a few years back when I was home sick with bronchitis. In just one afternoon, I had finished it, feeling haunted by what had transpired. I picked it up again for a readathon, remembering what a quick read it was, though feeling a little worried that I would be tired by reading the same words again, though I couldn’t remember the whole story.
Fortunately, I was just as intrigued reading this the second time as I was reading it the first time. Mosley has an interesting way of weaving a story together, hovering among that thin line between perfectly normal and perfectly morbid. And while there’s a sense of normalcy throughout the book, the morbid is what teaches the reader the lessons. It’s a philosophical read that will haunt you long after you finish its pages.
The characters are very well fleshed out, both main and secondary, and themes of dominance and power–and losing your dominance and power–are questioned and explored. If you were in a situation of power, would you change as a human being? Would your values change? Would your temperament? If you lost your power, would you change?
While it’s a short novel, I can’t help but wonder, had things gone differently, if Mosley couldn’t have made it a little more longer and a little more thrilling. To me, it seems that the ending, while it left me haunted and thinking, was almost too neatly wrapped up. It would have been interesting to see Mosley explore a little more depth than just the ones that were presented.
That being said, this is a gripping story and while there may not be any huge climaxes, you can’t help but keep turning the pages–it’s suspenseful enough that it doesn’t need any huge climaxes or a ton of action.
I highly recommend this book.
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