Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review of Walter Mosley's Gone Fishin'

I read Gone Fishin' in about 3 hours last night. What Walter Mosley's tale lacks in length it more than compensates for in intensity. This 1997 novella follows young Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins and his best friend Raymond "Mouse" Alexander, a pair of nineteen-year-olds, on a quest. Mouse is engaged, but he and his EttaMae are stone broke. Mouse isn't willing to wed under those conditions, so he decides to visit his stepfather in the east Texas bayou to shake loose some of the old man's wealth. On the road from Houston in a borrowed car, they pick up a pair of teenage hitchhikers: a sexpot girl, Ernestine, and her jealous sullen boyfriend, Clifton, who may have killed a man in a bar fight.

Mouse, who uses any tools at hand to achieve his aims, sees possibilities in Clifton's anxiety to avoid the law. Exaggerating the danger the youth may be in, Mouse convinces the couple to accompany him and Easy. In the encounters that follow, we see Mouse's single-minded ruthlessness and Easy's illness (he comes down with the flu shortly after they arrive in the bayou, and spends most of the story in a weak and fevered haze, his revulsion at Mouse's methods intercut with memories of his own father, who to survive ran off from his family, never to reappear.). Mouse, it seems, has his own guilt to atone for, having pressed his mother to marry so he could have a daddy, then living in mutual loathing with the man she chose until her death. He blames his stepfather for her early demise, so when the old man will part with none of his money for Mouse's wedding, it's clear Reese is doomed.

The colorful cast of small-town and rural characters around Pariah, Texas is best explained by Sweet William, a blues musician:
"But you know folks is diff'rent from country than they is in the city.... In the city they all wear the same clothes and they get t'be like each other 'cause they live so close together. It's like trees; when they real close they all grow straight up to get they li'l bit'a sun. But out here you got room t'spread out. They ain't no two trees in a field look the same way. Maybe one is in the wind an' it grow on a slant or another one be next to a hill so one side is kinda shriveled from the afternoon shade."
Hence we have Mouse's near-feral stepfather Reese, living in the swamp with his dogs; Jo the witch; and her hunchback son Domaque who provides Mouse a voodoo doll to hex Reese. Domaque also studies with the white woman, Miss Dixon, who owns all the land under and around Pariah. Despite the segregationist code governing their interactions, Miss Dixon takes in Easy to convalesce, and at a suitable distance, coaches Domaque on Bible stories.

In under 160 pages Walter Mosley leads us into a dangerous world where a vivid cast work out their troubles, and brings us out with a sense of resolution if not relief. Mouse is every bit as amoral and heartless a friend as Easy let on early in the story, but Easy is transformed: his way out of this destructive life is literacy.

They're the sort of pair who ground a series: Mouse is trouble incarnate, and Easy his friend will have plenty of opportunities to get both of them out of fixes. A tale well-told, Mr. Mosley!

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