In Mosley’s boldly understated fable, an unemployed African-American agrees to rent space in his basement to a wealthy white businessman for two months.
Except for living in New York’s Harbor district, Charles Blakey might be a double for the denizens of Mosley’s Watts (Six Easy Pieces, 2003, etc.). He’s got no wife, no current girlfriend, few friends—though those few are ancient and loyal—and no work since he was fired from his job as a bankteller for petty embezzling. Worse still, he’s about to lose the house his family’s lived in for seven generations because he can’t make payments on the mortgage he’s taken out to tide him over. But when Greenwich reclamation expert Anniston Bennet approaches him with a request to let his basement for the summer, Charles isn’t even tempted—until his other feeble sources of income dry up and his back is to the wall. It turns out that Bennet is offering a fabulous sum, nearly $50,000, for his stay; that he’s picked Charles out especially as his host after doing a great deal of research; and that in cleaning out the basement to make it ready for him, Charles, who according to antique dealer Narciss Gully has turned up family heirlooms worth just as much as Bennet promises, doesn’t really need his money anymore. By this time, however, he’s become entranced by the combination of mastery and submission the white man is offering him, and the two enter into a relationship that becomes steadily more lacerating for them both.
Fans of Mosley’s nonfiction (Workin’ on the Chain Gang, 1997, etc.) will know from the beginning what Bennet wants from Charles. Even given the resulting lack of suspense and a story that falls off sharply by the end, this slender parable is Mosley’s most provocative and impassioned novel yet.