ANGELES — Back in April, as we were wandering the L.A.
neighborhood in which he was raised, Walter Mosley
mentioned "Parishioner," a novel that he had
published as an e-book original. If you don’t know it,
that’s not surprising; it was a small book, sneaked
out (if such a thing is possible) in the months leading
up to the release of the Easy Rawlins-resurrecting
I asked why he’d chosen to do it as an e-book, he gave
a little shrug. "Oh, you know," he said.
"I write so much, I write so many books I can’t
publish them all in paper. So I’m doing a couple as
e-books — it’s an experiment."
follows up on "Parishioner" with a second
digital experiment: a full-length work called
"Odyssey," available only as an e-book, which
revolves around a human resources executive named
Sovereign James who wakes up one morning with a case of
hysterical blindness; there is no physical cause.
place in Manhattan, it is one of Mosley’s conceptual
books, not unlike "The Man in My Basement," in
which the narrative is more or less a frame through
which to investigate political or philosophical themes.
Whether you like this sort of writing or not will
determine what you think of the novel, which begins with
a vivid dislocation: Sovereign must navigate, by feel,
the lobby of the Upper East Side apartment building
where his psychiatrist, Dr. Offeran, has his office.
eight or nine steps forward," the doorman tells
him, "and you’ll come to a wall. From there you
turn left and keep on going." In that simple
interaction, Mosley establishes Sovereign’s blindness
from the inside, drawing us into his experience,
allowing us to empathize, to share in his passage
through the world.
as it turns out, is a key factor in the novel; this is
what blindness has bestowed. An African American,
Sovereign has been accused of racism — not against
white applicants but against blacks, whom he holds to a
higher standard as part of a one-man insurrection
against the corporate culture of which he is a part.
he explains to Dr. Offeran: "I let in any old white
guy. He could misspell his own name and I’d be likely
to offer him a job. But when it comes to a brother or
sister they’d better have every single I dotted and T
crossed. When I’m finished with Techno-Sym their best
employees will be people who look like me."
Mosley sets up the metaphorical filter: Because he is
blind, Sovereign can no longer judge people according to
the color of their skin. He needs to listen more, to
react less, to open up a space where he can understand
the essence of those with whom he comes in contact —
who they are, rather than how they appear.
becomes complicated when he is mugged and his eyesight
returns briefly; the fallout from that event becomes the
narrative driver here. And yet, for Mosley,
"Odyssey" remains a novel of ideas. Sovereign
has spent so long caught up in his project, righteous in
his indignation, that he has missed the little things:
family, community, love. It is blindness, paradoxically,
that allows him to see.
it is blindness too that offers the most stirring stuff
in the novel, for this is really a story of the inner
life. "Odyssey" isn’t major Mosley; there’s
a reason he chose to release it and not, say, the next
Easy Rawlins novel as an e-book, after all.
despite some unlikely turns of plot, the book is largely
effective as a series of dialogues. Sometimes these
dialogues are between Sovereign and others and sometimes
they are conversations with himself, but either way,
they involve a man forced by circumstance to look
inward, and not so sure any longer what he thinks.