BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Fortunate Son by Walter Mosley

Fortunate SonCulling together every spare moment I had over a single day (amazing how much more enlightening mindless chores, endless driving, and running can be with a book stuck in your ears!), I managed to listen to all 9.5 hours of Lorraine Toussaint’s honeyed narration of Walter Mosley‘s tale of two brothers. Ironically, as much as I didn’t want to hit the ‘pause’ button, I also found myself getting more and more annoyed with every hour of the story.

About halfway through, I happened to have lunch with a longtime friend of Mosley’s (unreal how connected the world is!), a fact I learned in the midst of complaining about my rising anger. This mutual friend is one of the most dazzlingly erudite people I know; surprisingly, he confessed that he stopped reading Mosley’s books many years ago. Contrarily, I’ve just started, having been drawn in with The Last Days of Ptolemy Greyafter years of aborted attempts [Mosley has long been one of those authors I felt I “should” read]. He chuckled over my rants, and recommended (with warnings) I might try Mosley’s first, Devil in a Blue Dress, and call it a day … And, as soon as I heard “The End” with Son, I clicked over to “I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s Bar …” Oh, but I digress.

Branwyn Beerman sits in the hospital where her prematurely-born son Thomas lies between life and death with a hole in his lung. Thomas’ father Elton has all but deserted them both. Dr. Minas Nolan, a recent widower with a near-newborn son of his own, Eric, drives the young mother home one late night and sets in motion the interwoven trajectories of their two sons’ lives.

Branwyn and Thomas are African American. Minas and Eric are not. The nanny, Ahn, who will help raise both boys is a Vietnamese War refugee. For a short while, their co-mingled household will be an idyllic haven, especially for the two boys whose brotherly bond will be forever cemented. But happy endings can’t come this early – where’s the novel in that? – and by page 40, Branwyn is dead and the boys are forced apart.

Elton claims Thomas, and Minas lets him go far too easily. Suddenly torn from six years surrounded by unconditional love (not to mention Beverly Hills privilege), Thomas’ new life with his violent, irresponsible father is one bleak, horrific experience after another – bullying, truancy, drugs, prison, rape, homelessness. In utter contrast, Eric’s life couldn’t be more charmed as the good doctor’s golden son, even as he goes through much of it detached and unfeeling. More than a decade will pass before the two brothers see one another again … their reunion is literally explosive, thrusting two halves back together to become whole. But be patient a little longer: that final “happy” ending (a shocker) will require a few more additions to the total body count.

So why the annoyance and anger? I couldn’t get over the blatant stereotypes repeated over and over and over and over (and so on). Did I mention the lifelong loyal nanny who had to be an Asian war refugee who keeps a decades-old dress soaked in her mother’s blood, who was hired “‘so she could see trouble before it gets here'”? Oh, the exotic voodoohoodoo! Inscrutable even!

Surely, Son is an undeniable page-turner. But for all its twists and turns, it’s of the train-wreck variety from which you can’t turn your eyes away or, in my case, just can’t slide that iPod to off …

Tidbit: So that erudite friend responded to this with THIS: — “I read so hard …!” SOOO clever! Did I mention erudite??!!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006


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