Thursday, 10 August 2017

Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley

On Robertson Boulevard a block and a half north of Pico, just south of Whitworth Drive, on the eastern side of the street, there once stood a three-story turquoise building that had been a posh home in the thirties.

This sentence hooks how only a GPS device can, so nothing special to see here; blink and you'll miss most of it if you're lucky. Actually, this opening is what I like to call a twofer, a one-two punch. The first line sets up the hook, which comes in the second line:

But the owner died, leaving his real-estate-rich, cash-poor relatives to turn the domicile into a commercial property.

Actually, there's no hook there either, just the remnants of conflict from some other story that might very well get packaged and sold as a prequel. Page 1 goes on about the history of the building. I would have said droned on, but the building has some engaging history, so it's okay to read. But I didn't open this book to read about a building, no matter how charismatic it is. I came for characters I can care about and the stories that put them through the wringer. I didn't open this for a list of names on page 1.

It's openings like this that make me wonder: Why don't writers (like the rest of us who daily tell our friends the stories of what just shockingly happened to us or how cruel the world has been to us) start at the beginning, that is, with a character confronted with or confronting a problem? It's so simple, yet writer's insist on screwing around with the very concept of: In the beginning; they forget or ignore that the traits of starting are universal: it always begins with a bang, an act, an emotion or all of the above. The moment a biological conception becomes inevitable would be a great analogy.

Maybe writers think readers want to inch into a story like into cold water? Maybe writers think readers will short circuit if the story's too intense too soon? And by intense I, by no means, mean with violence. Or maybe writers think there's more than one way to hook a brain and compel them to buy it and into it?

Well, there isn't. Character+conflict=hook. The weirder, and further from the opiatic mundane reality that's slowly choking us readers to death, the better.

First thing said:

"Good Morning, Mr. Rawlins."

I was considering to give this a pass (but as close to a fail as the plaque is to your teeth) since some conflict is introduced. But after much thought, I can't because I've not been given a reason to care, which is essential in hooking my brain. However, it might not be that way for others; you know the type, the ones who'll eat rancid, stale food rather than 'let it go to waste.' But for my twitter-damaged brain, this one failed to get off at the starting line, and because so many books are tempting me to pick them up, that's all the time a writer gets to waste my time, before I move on to the next story.

It's a desolate, unsatisfying journey, jumping from book to flirting book like some lonely tease afraid of being taken advantage of. I slog on anyway in tentative hopefulness, trusting this quest will happily end eventually once I stumble upon a story that will hook me and compel me to read to the end.

Is it worth it? Sometimes I wonder. With so many books to choose from, it feels overwhelming at times, but eventually, I'll find it--I always do. I have lots of time to browse.

Verdict:  Fail

Rudy Globird

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