By November 5, 2007 0 Comments Read More →

Discussing Easy Is Difficult

[Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to know what happens to Easy Rawlins at the end of Walter Mosley’s Blonde Faith, stop reading now.]

My review of Walter Mosley’s Blonde Faith was due on June 15 (and was published in the July 2007 issue of Booklist; the book was published in October). It was a hectic time, and, uncharacteristically, I finished the book that very morning, on my bus ride to work. In the final few pages, I was reminded yet again why reviewers must read every page of every novel they review: Easy Rawlins’ car goes off a cliff and, apparently, Easy dies.

Holy crap! I read the end again and was convinced that, yep, this was the end of the road for Easy. When I got to work I discussed this startling development with my boss, Bill Ott. Bill was a little more skeptical than I was–having read as widely as he has in crime fiction, he can be forgiven for a little cynicism about the possibility of a next-installment resurrection–but agreed nonetheless that it was newsworthy.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t news we could really break.

I have to confess that I was excited. Reading books long before the general public, and having advance knowledge of plot twists, is a great perk of the job. But while the public wants to know what we think–is the book worth reading?–they don’t want to know all of the details. Like the end, for example. Some people don’t even want to read a book for which they’ve accidentally learned the ending. So to write a review trumpeting the fact that a character dies, well, those are e-mails nobody wants to answer. The pleasure of having privileged information, then, is tempered by having to keep that information secret.

Still, I felt that Easy’s seeming death had to be addressed. It fit in naturally with the review I’d been drafting in my mind, because the book didn’t read as if Mosley’s heart was in it. And given all the other kinds of books he’d been publishing with increasing frequency, the death thing fit the picture of a restless writer who was ready to move on to new challenges.

I went through a few drafts, but even phrases like “shocking ending” seemed to hint too broadly. I settled on this:

But if this extraordinary series is beginning to drift, there are indications that suggest Mosely may be thinking about wrapping it up.

Why am I revisiting the subject now? Because Mosley’s talking about it. In October, he told Ebony (“Could this be his last?” by Lynette R. Holloway) this:

“I’m thinking about not writing any more Easy Rawlins novels,” says Mosley. “But I don’t know. I might wake up one day in 20 years and decide there is a story I want tell about Easy Rawlins. But for now, this could be it. You can’t write [about] something forever.”

A short while later he had apparently made up his mind. The other day, he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (“Easy does it,” by Bill Ward) this:

“That’s it. I’m finished writing Easy Rawlins novels,” said Mosley, who was dressed in black down to his sneakers, but clearly not in mourning. “I have so many other things to do, to think about, to wonder about. I have a lot of books to write.” 

And he talked about it with Tavis Smiley on the radio.

Smiley: “Say it ain’t so, man. Say it ain’t so.”

Mosley: “It’s so, it’s so. I can’t write about Easy forever…The truth is I have many, many books in my mind, many more books than I could ever write in my life. And even though I love writing Easy and I know people like reading about him, he’s been–in the 3,000 pages that I’ve published on him, I’ve covered him. He’s like, we know everything we need to know about Easy Rawlins in those 3,000 pages. And so it’s time for me to move on and do other things.”

Nobody’s really saying “Easy dies”–they’re talking about “the end of the series” and so on, but it’s clear enough. By the time Patrick Anderson reviewed Blonde Faith for the Washington Post (“Can Easy Rawlins Survive This ‘Blonde’?“)–interestingly enough, alongside Philip Roth’s Exit Ghost–Easy’s demise had become part of the zeitgeist enough that Anderson felt comfortable opening with:

Last week I read two novels that are said to be the end of two admired American series.

(Why not throw in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, too? Oh, he said “American.” Although there’s an interesting tangent here, if I had time, about how the issue of a Major Character’s Death obsessed Potter fans for months before the final book’s publication, and the furor that greeted some supposed spoilers.)

Lost in all of this, I think, is discussion about the larger arc of Mosley’s career. I’ve wondered aloud whether he’s diluting his talents. If Booklist‘s reviews are anything to go by–and they certainly are–his non-Easy efforts are pretty uneven.

Is Mosley making a mistake by leaving behind the books that made him famous? Is he writing too many books too quickly? Is he trying to refashion himself from a writer of intelligent entertainments into a literary lion/renaissance man/Important Writer? Is he, in fact, an Important Writer?

As I said, I admire his restlessness and ambition, although sometimes I’ve had to force myself to read the results. As for Easy’s retirement, I’ll let Anderson have the last word:

If I am tentative in writing off Rawlins…it is because, by and large, novelists are not to be trusted.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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