Walter Mosley: 'The Man in My Basement'

Race, Power, Good and Evil on Display in Author's Latest

Cover of Walter Mosley's 'The Man in My Basement'

Cover of Walter Mosley's The Man in My Basement hide caption

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Author Walter Mosley

Author Walter Mosley Avie Schneider, NPR Online hide caption

itoggle caption Avie Schneider, NPR Online

Walter Mosley reads from 'The Man in My Basement'

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Walter Mosley's latest novel, The Man in My Basement, examines race, power and identity — core subjects of much of his past work. But this time he has even more fundamental mysteries in mind.

"I wanted to show a meeting between evil and innocence," he tells NPR's Cheryl Corley during a discussion of his book and its underlying themes.

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Mosley pursues that goal by matching two characters whose lives are worlds apart.

Charles Blakey, the protagonist, is an African-American slacker who has lived a directionless life since being fired from his latest job. One day, Anniston Bennett, a wealthy, 57-year-old WASP, appears at Charles' doorstep and offers $50,000 to rent his basement for the summer. But there are a few conditions:

As a kind of self-punishment, Bennett transforms the basement into a locked cage. And an experimental relationship unfolds with Bennett playing the role of a white prisoner, with Blakey as his black jailer.

Mosley uses the mock prison-cell setting to play with the dynamics of race, freedom and manipulation. In exploring those topics, he gives a nod to classic existentialist novels of the past.

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