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Walter Mosley: 'The Man in My Basement'

Cover of Walter Mosley's <i>The Man in My Basement</i>
Cover of Walter Mosley's The Man in My Basement
Author Walter Mosley
Avie Schneider, NPR Online /
Author Walter Mosley

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.

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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Cheryl Corley
Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.