Walter Mosley and the Awkward Black Girl — Erica L. Williams

I once saw Walter Mosley at a writer’s conference in Austin. Standing next to him, I was at a loss for words. When I gathered myself, I told him that I was in love with Easy Rawlins. He smiled, sheepishly, and said he would tell him I said hello. At least I think that’s what he said as I stared straight ahead and prayed that I would fade into obscurity.

It was an awkward moment for me, and I’m sure, a forgettable one for him. Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, the famous protagonist in Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mystery books series spanning from “Devil in a Blue Dress” to “Charcoal Joe,” is the private eye known to succumb to the weaknesses of the flesh. He’s not a perfect man, but his affection for his on again off again love, Bonnie Shay, and his passion for justice were always enticing and irresistible.

The narrators in Mosley’s latest book, “Awkward Black Man: Stories,” unlike Rawlins, are well…awkward.

I obtained an advanced copy of the short story collection released on September 15 th. The book features 17 stories from male protagonists whose flaws are palpable and rendered so honest that, at times, I cringed as I read them.

In “Pet Fly,” Rufus Coomb’s admiration, more like obsession over his co-worker, gets him into trouble with human resources. But it’s his conversations about her with his pet fly, Andy, that augment Rufus’ insecurities.

In “Between Storms,” we see Michael Trey refuse to leave his apartment and spiral into mental illness, triggered by fear after a hurricane.

In “Reply to a Dead Man,” Roger Vaness is faced with a decision with life-changing consequences after receiving a letter written by his dead brother.

Most of the stories are set in New York and feature male narrators, mainly nearing middle age, who are down on their luck and fraught with isolation and loneliness. The readers are shown glimpses into the character’s dour lives, their emotions so raw that you find yourself rooting for them, yet holding your breath, anticipating that an impact akin to a punch in the gut is near.

The characters search for belonging, looking for love and satisfaction as they navigate their emotional terrain, and you hope like hell that they find it.

Mosley, who has written more than 60 acclaimed books in varying genres, will receive the National Book Foundation’s 2020 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in November at the virtual National Book Award ceremony.

In “Awkward Black Man” the stories’ range and complexities display Mosley’s immense literary acumen, and if I’m ever in his presence again, I will tell him to let Easy Rawlings know that my feelings haven’t changed.

Originally published at https://ericalwilliams.com on September 19, 2020.

MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Work has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Blood Orange Review, & elsewhere.

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