book reviews

Walter Mosely’s “RL’s Dream”

Walter Mosley

“And RL cracked a smile that woulda made a sweet girl’s photograph cry.” There are such beautifully descriptive sentences scattered throughout Walter Mosley’s 1995 novel “RL’s Dream”. The novel is formally about a black bluesman from the Mississippi delta, but in reality it’s a history of the blues, meaning something of the history of black people in the United States. No one book can tell such a history completely, no more than a single book – or even a series of books — can cover any such broad subject. But in focusing on one particular aspect of that broad history, Mosely really brings it to life.

It’s like this: You can read about some atrocity in which 500 entire families are killed. But the statistic is so broad that it has a lot less impact than reading the history of one particular individual who was caught up in that. “RL’s Dream” isn’t only about the atrocity that is US history and the experience of black people; it’s about a lot more. It really brings the meaning of the blues to life, or at least Mosley’s understanding of that meaning. It’s about one particular man navigating his way through a hard life – and others around him doing the same. And all the while, Mosley has those wonderfully descriptive phrases and entire paragraphs.

I got so into that book that I couldn’t get to sleep at night, I was so engrossed in the book. And two nights in a row, I actually had dreams of the book, thinking up dialog! Last night, I finished the book around midnight, then went to sleep and while sleeping I actually dreamed/thought up a different ending! And when I woke up I wasn’t sure if that was a dream or if that was actually the ending.

I was first turned on to Mosley back 25 or so years ago when I started reading his Easy Rawlings mysteries. Those novels are set in Los Angeles in the 1950s or so and tell a lot about that era in that city.

For my money, Mosley is about the best novelist alive, at least that I know of, and if you haven’t read his material – or even if you have and are looking for more – you could do a lot worse than “RL’s Dream”. His Easy Rawling mysteries (including Devil in a Blue Dress, which was made into a movie) are also great. I’m not a fan of science fiction so when I started reading his books in that genre I stopped reading him. But Mosley is really prolific. He’s got dozens of novels, and I’m going to get back into him.

And by the way, the Wikipedia article about him, recounts one of his writing mentor’s, Edna O’Brien, putting it this way to him: “You’re Black, Jewish, with a poor upbringing; there are riches therein.” She hit the nail on the head.

Categories: book reviews, racism

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