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Thread: Book Club (January 2006): The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley

  1. #11
    Livin' the life Dinahann's Avatar
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    AJane, I like your description. Charles just seems to be adrift. He takes no personal responsibility for any of his actions. Asking his former fellow employee why he was fired from the bank, and then denying that he'd stolen money was a morally reprehensible thing to do, especially since she got upset. He didn't care about her feelings. He picked a fight with Clarance and then called him the next day to borrow money, and only apologized because he thought he might get a "loan" (which he had no way of paying back) if he did.

    He's a user. It's like he has no idea that his actions have any effect - he's out of touch with reality.

  2. #12
    Culture slut geek the girl's Avatar
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    Damn, this is frustrating! I ordered my copy before I went away on vacation, happily thinking that it would have reached me by the time I got home. Of course, with the holidays and all, it hasn't. It still hasn't even been sent from the online bookstore, so I'm lucky if I get it this week. Looks like I'll have some speed-reading to do when I finally do get my copy of The Man in My Basement. In the meantime, hope everyone's enjoying the book so far. I'm envious.

    ... however, thanks to some Internet research, I just learned that it's available (in English and all) at a library not that far from me. Yay! I'll go get my copy after breakfast and start reading right away.
    "There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more" (Morrissey)

  3. #13
    Right Here, Right Now Britannia's Avatar
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    I have finished the book already - cos I couldn't stop reading. So I will answer from re-reading the first 88 pages only..
    The word that came to me was rootless. Even though he knows and has some pride in his family background, it doesn't seem to have rooted in him in the way he acts, thinks and says. He seems to be adrift on his lies and his sense of what he thinks he's entitled to.
    I also think that his Uncle Brent has a lot to do with it. I've seen kids grow up not reaching their potential, because that's all they've heard from the adults closest to them; "you'll never amount to anything.". For other kids it works in the opposite way. Charlie resents his uncle big time, yet seems to fulfill his prophecy. He has no roots left...except for his friendships with Ricky and Clarance that seem to go way deeper that he thinks. (I'm posting this at work, so I'm kinda typing as I think, so it may come out all over the place!)
    It's a fair cop guv - you got me bang to rights and no mistake!

  4. #14
    Culture slut geek the girl's Avatar
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    What I think of Charles Blakey + a few more observations/rants

    Maybe it's the first person narration playing mind games on me - did you ever notice that it's much harder to hate, or even dislike, a character when (s)he speaks to you directly? - but I actually find Charles to be a pretty sympathetic character. Sure, he's lazy, lacks direction and motivation; he's dishonest and gets a kick out of verbally abusing people close to him (the Clarance/Uncle Brent parallels are quite striking.. although Clarance is a lot less deserving of the abuse, in my opinion). However, so far (about 80 pages in), all his negative traits seem to boil down to two things, things that go hand in hand: insecurity and low self-esteem. All his less-than-flattering behaviour appears to be the direct result of feeling inferior, due to people shattering his already weak sense of self. When Clarance tells him to get his act together, get a job, or else he'll end up like old man Bradford, "sleepin' in somebody's garage, eatin' old-day bread, and drinkin' brand X" (page 10 - at least in my edition), he knows that Clarance is right. Clarance hit a nerve that comment - if I may speculate, I'd say that the "drinkin' brand X" part in particular really hit home; on numerous occasions, Charles goes out of his way to tell us that he doesn't have a drinking problem, he just likes to drink, he's in control. Obviously upset, Charles then gets back at Clarance by trying to demasculate him, Clarance the ladies' man.

    (What's with Clarance's reaction to that, by the way? Any thoughts? Is it because he knows Charles does it out of spite, or is he homophobic? Wait. Perhaps that question will be answered later on.)

    Regardless of why Charles and Clarance talk to each other the way they do, it would appear that theirs is a relationship where power - or lack thereof - is a huge issue. Clearly, Charles wants to be perceived as an educated, smart person - his going to college (before dropping out) and getting a job in banking (before getting fired) is probably, at least in part, a manifestation of that, as is the impromptu subscription to the New York Times. The fact that Clarance occasionally outsmarts him, even though he's "the smart one", infuriates him. It's inferiority and a poor sense of self, not malice, that makes Charles lash out on Clarance. Same thing with the money he stole from the bank. Maybe I'm too early in on the story to speculate, but it seems like Charles stole the money a) to appear suave and well-off in front of China - again, the lack of self-esteem, and b) to see if he could get away with it. There is nothing truly bad about Charles' character. It's the cowardly, passive-aggressive, lazy side of him that makes him human and, therefore, sympathetic. Like I said earlier, I'm not sure just how much of Charles' likability is due to the first-person narrative, but it's interesting to see how many diverse reactions he's received by us so far. I'd agree with Dinahann: Charles really seems adrift. I wouldn't call him soulless, though, for the reasons that my rant will hopefully explain.

    Feel free to tell me to shut up if I get too excited and far-fetched, but here's a few other observations I've made so far. You're welcome to jump in and contradict and/or agree with me any time.

    First of all, the language, which I find so important in a novel. I'm very, very impressed with Mosley's style. He makes everything seem so effortless, so smooth. There aren't a whole lot of fancy words or intricate sentences, but each word just seemsright. Kudos to Mr. Mosley.

    Back to Charles now. The first scene with Narciss definitely increases his likability. What is it about her that makes him act so out of character? Why doesn't he feel the need to lie? Would we as readers have thought of Charles as "a sweet man" if Narciss didn't say those exact words?

    I've also been thinking a lot about the variations of blackness and their connotations. Each time a new person is introduced, their skin tone is mentioned. Uncle Brent's "kind of blackness" is frowned upon by Charles - why? Is it because he hates his uncle, making each character trait, even skin tone, guilty by association so to speak, or does Charles prefer lighter-skinned blacks? For me, who never even think about what colour skin people I meet have, this is interesting, not to say puzzling. Mosley addresses the hierarchy and internal racism within African-American communities, where light skin seems to be preferred to Brent's darker skin.
    Being white and living in a predominantly white community, I hardly ever reflect upon skin colour. Charles' preoccupation with skin tones made me realise why that is. I don't reflect upon my skin tone because I'm white and therefore - sadly, STILL in this so-called enlightened day and age - the rule as opposed to the exception. No one reflects upon whiteness, the same way no one reflects upon heterosexuality. Joyce Carol Oates has noted that the term "Woman writer" is in fact an anomaly: there are no "Male writers". Same thing with Toni Morrison, who is often referred to as a "black writer" (a black Woman writer, no less). Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Waters are constantly labelled as "lesbian writers". Has anyone ever referred to Joyce Carol Oates as a "white writer"? Anyone heard Stephen King presented as "heterosexual best-selling writer Stephen King"? Of course, this is a rhetorical question. No one specifies the normative; there is no need.

    I'm definitely off-topic here, but it's interesting to see just how many questions and thoughts The Man in the Basement generates. It's definitely a rewarding read. Thanks so much for suggesting it to us, phat.
    "There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more" (Morrissey)

  5. #15
    FORT Fogey PGM35's Avatar
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    You caught up pretty fast geek the girl!

    I wrote this earlier:
    "I got that sense - like he feels entitled to certain things without having to "work" for them. And jealous of his friends and those that have things that he doesn't (even things such as luck and smarts)."

    I think part of his imagined entitlement is that his family were never slaves. He keeps referring to that as if that makes him higher up on the hierarchy and internal racism within African-American communities as geek the girl mentions with regards to skin tone.

    I agree with a lot of your assessments geek...very well written...much better than I could have put it!

  6. #16
    RENThead JLuvs's Avatar
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    I am really enjoying what other people have thought and I agree with geek_the_girl that I love Mosley's writing style.

    I am wondering if he likes Narciss because of her education or because she sees something in him that no one else seems to.

    I think education is going to play a huge role in this book --- what type of education remains to be seen.

    After Charles agrees to have the man live in the basement and recieves the first payment he does show that he has some survival smarts as he pays ahead on his bills and mortage. I think he also was getting a subscroiption to the New York Times.
    Whenever you see darkness, there is extraordinary opportunity for the light to burn brighter.
    -Bono

  7. #17
    RENThead JLuvs's Avatar
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    Okay Phat....I just had to ask. Did you finisih reading the book before you picked the cut off points? As I just read the second section and boy did it end at an excellent place.
    Whenever you see darkness, there is extraordinary opportunity for the light to burn brighter.
    -Bono

  8. #18
    Culture slut geek the girl's Avatar
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    I'm really trying to be a good girl and stop reading once I've reached the designated chapters (I'm afraid I'll end up spoiling you guys if I read ahead of time), but man, is it hard. So far, I'm loving this book. It's hard-boiled without being stereotypical, well-written yet a smooth read, and the plot is genius. I'd love to see it turned into a movie. Devil In a Blue Dress was filmed with Denzel Washington in the leading role, right? Who do you see playing Charles? (Or any other character for that matter.)

    Oh, and where is our book club leader? We need you!
    "There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more" (Morrissey)

  9. #19
    RENThead JLuvs's Avatar
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    I put the book away every week so I don't read it...I like it being set up like this as I can read the new sections on weekend when I can enjoy it. I can't even imagine trying to read this during the week.
    Whenever you see darkness, there is extraordinary opportunity for the light to burn brighter.
    -Bono

  10. #20
    Premium Member DesertRose's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geek the girl View Post
    I'd love to see it turned into a movie. Devil In a Blue Dress was filmed with Denzel Washington in the leading role, right? Who do you see playing Charles? (Or any other character for that matter.)
    I know he is the IT thing right now, but I totally see Terence Howard (Crash, Four Brothers) playing Charles. He has that rich I don't give a d@mn attitude that Charles does. I'm almost done with the book; it reads so smoothly.

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