Walter Mosley, Fortunate Son (2006)
Walter Mosley's (1952- ) name was familiar to me when I picked up this box from the library shelf, but I didn't know why he is famous. Maybe because he is one of the best known and most prolific black-Jewish American novelists living today? He has written more than 40 books--mostly crime fiction like the Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins series--and Denzel Washington starred in the 1995 film adaptation of Mosley's first book, Devil in a Blue Dress. Mosley says he wants to write about black male heroes, and Fortunate Son is an interesting contribution to this genre.
The story begins as a sweet, interracial romance between a poor black florist and a rich white surgeon. Branwyn's infant son Tommy is struggling to live in an incubator in the NICU; Minas's baby Eric sucked the life out of his mother and is now thriving and entitled. The single parents fall in love and raise their boys together in a Beverly Hills mansion with a visionary Vietnamese-refugee nanny, Ahn. After Branwyn dies and her ex-boyfriend and mother show up to claim 6-year-old Tommy, the brothers' lives diverge drastically. Skinny, introspective Tommy drops out of school almost immediately and lives on the streets, having a series of wild and violent encounters with drug dealers, gang members, and the police. Blonde Adonis Eric is popular, athletic, and excels at school, but he seems to carry a curse that dooms the people around him. The two young men pine for each other, and 13 years after their forced separation, coincidence (fate?) brings them back into each other's lives.
While I was listening to this audiobook, whenever someone would ask me its title, I would trip up and say, "Unfortunate Son," because on its face, it is a tale of woe--especially for Tommy. Eric does appear to be the fortunate one. But Tommy--whose friends call him "Lucky"--has a near-supernatural ability to survive, whether it's leaving the bubble of his incubator as an infant, being repeatedly shot or raped, or not dying in a terrible automobile accident. The end of the novel asks us, through Ahn, whether our fortunes are inevitable, or whether Tommy is an unconventional black male hero through the choices he made to help those he loved.
Accomplished actress Lorraine Toussaint (1960- ) read the version to which I listened. She makes some effort to give the main characters different voices, and I think she generally got the pacing and inflection right. I can imagine reading this book again some years from now, if only to savor the delicious turns of phrase with which Mosley closes many of the chapters, especially early on. I think my favorite is the image of Branwyn as a cut flower: although she is beautiful, once removed from the garden (black LA) from which she came, (emotional) cold can only prolong her inevitable death.