Black and blues

Renowned for his Easy Rawlins crime novels. American writer Walter Mosley reveals another passion in his latest novel. He tells Teddy Jamieson why R L's Dream is written to the rhythm of the blues.

()ne of the characters in Walter Mosley ‘s new novel. R I. '5‘ Dream. is heard to complain: ‘Black people have built the culture of America with their play and nobody knows it really because it‘s not written down in books.‘

He has obviously not read the book he appears in. Nor. for that matter. Nlosley‘s four earlier novels

Walter Mosley has spent the past live years chronicling the everyday experience of black .»\mericans. [flack lie/Iv. out in paperback. is the fourth adventure of Easy Rawlins. a reluctant black private eye. The series has charted the character's lifc and times from the late ~l()s through to the (i(ls and the writer has every intention of continuing to follow Easy through to his old age in the present day.

His latest novel R l.'.\' Dream breaks away from the thriller format. Once again. however. it lecnis with the variousness of black American life. .\losley may have grown tip in Los Angeles listening to a diet of rock and R ’n‘ B. but it is the blues. discovered through the work ofJinuny Hendrix and ’l'ai .\lahal. that provides the motor for R L's Dream.

Set initially in the late 80s it spans the decades telling the story of ageing bluesman Soupsoon Wise. Soup. whose body is being eaten tip by cancer. spends his days recalling his youth and a glorious

Walter Mosley: happy to be President Clinton‘s favourite writer

to the devil in return for his talent. ‘I wanted to use the blues as a way to examine black American history] Mosley explains. "The blues is the story of black .'\lliet‘ic;t.'

The book celebrates. as Mosley puts it. ‘the black genius of America that is so undervalued. but so overused'. it is testament to .‘ylosley's skill as a writer that a book brimming with humour and goodwill tells. essentially. a tragic tale. It dissects lives outwith the control of those who live them. where violence is a casual. ev cry day event.

‘i believe tragedy is the highest achievement in human art,‘ say s \loslcy. ‘From the Greeks. through

brief period he spent playing alongside blues guitarist 5 Shakespeare and Marlowe. who Robert Johnson has

Robeit Johnson. a man reputed to have sold his soul

i much in common with. it has always been so. and it's

the an I‘d like to aim for.‘

Moslest novels remind us that the social history of black American was. until recently. predominantly rural. His characters might live in the cities. but they all have the whiff of the deep South in their nostrils. The urban experience for most black Americans is. after all. no more than a century old.

‘Not even l()() years.‘ says Mosley. ‘The second great migration was after the war. The jobs were in the cities and that‘s where people went. Now people are going back to the country. They‘ve still got family there and now that‘s where the jobs are.‘

The prevailing mainstream media images of black urban life with their ghetto notions of liarlem and Bedford Stuyvesant hold out little hope for the future. Mosley acknowledges that many feel powerless but he sees reasons for some optimism.

‘l was in South Central LA and i noticed a lot of new businesses have opened up.‘ he says. ‘Whereas before they would have been owned by white men. now they‘re black businesses.‘

Walter Mosley’s characters might live in the cities, but they all have the whiff of the deep South in their nostrils.

For all his readiness with an opinion. Mosley is keen to stress he is a writer. not a politician. He voices a mischievous desire to attend a reading by someone like Norman Mailer and. during the question and answer session. ask: ‘Mr Mailer. what does it feel like to be a white writer in America'."

Still. politics does play a role in Mosley's literary career. He is. as legend and every interview ~ including this one never hesitate to point out. President Clinton's favourite writer. ls that a bit of an albatross around his neck'?

‘l'm not unhappy with that.‘ he says. ‘l voted for the guy after all. If l had been Bush's favourite writer that would have been a different matter.‘

Willi a book of contemporary short stories The .S'm-ra/es Stories. soon to be completed. plans to write a serious. ‘scholarly‘ literary novel and even a notion to try his hand at a science fiction novel in the future. Mosley should be thrilling American presidents well into the next century.

R L's Dream by Walter Mosley is published by

Serpent '3 72111 a! £9. 99. Black Ber'y is published by Macmillan at £4. 99.

Hammer— life is sweet

Still widely regarded as America’s leading dramatist, Arthur Miller has not published a novel since his prose debut, Focus, half a century ago. Eighty this year, he returns to fiction 3 with Plain Girl: A Life. Like Miller, the central character is a Jewish New Yorker born during World War I, and one strand of the novel is i the psyche of American Jewish culture though a century of upheaval and rapid change. America’s remoteness from the horrors of the Holocaust,

Arthur Miller: returning to fiction ,

is once again tackled.


i future entirely rosy.

after 50 years

central to his last play Broken Glass,

Unlike Miller, however, Janice Sessions is female, and Plain Girl’s deeper theme is to do with identity, self-respect and physical beauty. Described in the book’s original title as ‘homely’, Janice progresses through a variety of unsatisfying relationships before Miller triter - if ironically - awards her a blind man, in whom she finds perfection. The tone is nostalgic and above all optimistic, suggesting there can be a moment in life that redeems all earlier disappointments and renders the

At less than 50 pages. Plain Girl at first seems a paltry affair, and

remarkably undramatised. Dialogue is used only sporadically, in little sketches, while most of the narrative is told in a distant, reflective voice. 0n the final page, Miller audacioust summarises what might have been twenty scenes in a single sentence. On second reading, it becomes apparent that the trick of economy, learned through 50 years of writing plays, has granted Miller liberation from the need for explicitness. This is not, perhaps, a tale for cynics, and certainly no epic, but it is a warm, delicately told celebration of the possibilities of human redemption. (Andrew Burnet) Plain Girl: A life by Arthur Miller is published by Mefhuen at £10.

The List 6- l9 Oct l9‘.5 91