Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Fortunate Son by Walter Mosley








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Popular novelist Walter Mosley’s latest work, Fortunate Son, explores the struggles of relationships, and the meaning of belonging to a family. Mosley takes two boys, Tommy and Eric, and riffs on the impact of luck in their lives and the reality that happiness isn’t always what it appears to be. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 3, pp. 40-47:


Ahn set up a cot in Eric’s room for Thomas not for the sake of Branwyn’s son but for the doctor’s boy. Eric was desolate over the death of the woman who was the only mother he ever knew. He understood that she was sick, but he never thought about her dying. Thomas, on the other hand, thought about death all the time. The dead bugs and small ani­mals that he’d find in the garden fascinated him. And his many months of isolation in the intensive care unit had often been the topic of conversation between him and his mother.

“What would have happened if Dr. Nolan didn’t say for you to take me out of there?” he’d ask.

“Then you would have stayed small and gotten smaller,” Branwyn told him. “And if you stayed long enough you would have probably died.”

“And then would you come to the cemetery to visit me?”

“Every day for my whole life.”

At night Eric sobbed in his bed, and Thomas would come sit next to him and tell him stories about their mother.

“She was always talking about having a small house near the desert where we could grow watermelons and strawber­ries,” Thomas said.

“Just you and me and her?” Eric asked.

“Uh-huh,” Thomas replied. “And Dr. Nolan too. And maybe Ahn if we were still little.”

“How come you don’t call Daddy ‘Daddy,’ Tommy?”

“Because I have a father, and he’d be sad if I called another man that.”

“Are you gonna go live with your father now that Mama Branwyn’s dead?”

Thomas had never thought of this before. Would they make him go live with the man that taught him the riddle? He didn’t want to go. And he couldn’t see why they’d make him if he just said that he wanted to stay with his brother and Dr. Nolan and .

“I sure miss Mama Branwyn,” Eric said.

Thomas put his hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“She’s not gone away. . . just in her body, she is. But she’s still in the world lookin’ at us and smilin’.”



The funeral was three days later.

By then Eric had recovered from his deep sadness. Thomas sat up with him every night telling him all the things about Branwyn he never knew, or at least never paid attention to.

Eric was a strong boy filled with energy. He loved rough­house games and running, and though he could be very sad for short periods, he always came back laughing and running hard. So when he woke up on the morning of the funeral, he was happy again, with Branwyn’s death behind him. He told Thomas that he didn’t need him to sleep in his room any­more. He helped his diminutive pretend sibling carry the cot back to the attic where Ahn had gotten it.

When Thomas went back to his bedroom, he realized that something was different. It was as if there was a film over his eyes that made everything just the slightest bit darker, like a lightbulb dimming when lightning strikes outside or a cloud coming close to the sun but not enough to make real shadows.

Thomas tried to look hard at things around him, to make them shine as they had done only a few days before, but the luster was gone. He sat down on the floor in the center of his room, looking around at the new world he inhabited. He tried to remember how things had looked before, but slowly the memories of the glitter he’d always taken for granted dis­sipated and all that was left was what he could see.

After a while he forgot what he was looking for. When he tried to remember why it was that he sat there, he thought of what his mother had told him: I will always be with you through rain and shine, thick and thin. And he thought that he was wait­ing for his mother to tell him more.

Sitting there on his knees on the floor, Thomas felt the world settling around him. It was completely still, but he knew that over time all things got heavier and sank into one another until they became one thing rather than many. He didn’t remember where he’d learned that whether it was from Dr. Nolan or big Ira Fontanot, his mother’s friend. But he knew that it was true and that if he sat in that room long enough, his knees would bond with the floor and he’d know everything that happened in the house. And the house would become part of the ground, and he and the house would be a part of the whole world. Once this happened he would be joined with everything, and then he would know where his mother was and they could talk again.

So Thomas closed his dimmed eyes and waited for his knees to become one with the floor. He heard the wind rattle a loose pane of glass in the window and, every now and then, the hard thumps of feet through the wood. Dr. Nolan’s meas­ured pace was continual as he moved around on the distant first floor. ’s tapping footsteps could often be heard. The loudest footfalls were Eric’s. He would run hard and then stop and maybe leap, landing with a loud thud that shook the house, if only slightly. Thomas felt that he was already be­coming a part of everything. He raised his head, expecting his mother to appear to him at any moment. Then came a quick tapping and the whine of his door opening.

“Tommy,” Ahn said in her clipped voice. “You not ready.”

He opened his eyes and saw her. He wanted to explain that things were not the same and that he was trying to find his mother in the wide world. But he didn’t have the words or the heart to try.

“Get up,” she said. “Put on your clothes. We have to go say good-bye to your mother.”

The nanny was wearing a one-piece black dress that but­toned down the front and went all the way to her feet. She had a boy’s figure and was very short, though still taller than Thomas.

“Hurry, hurry,” the nanny said.

“Did your mommy die one day, Ahn?” Thomas asked, not moving from his place on the floor.

There was a long black shawl hanging from Ahn’s tooth­pick-thin shoulders. She came up next to the boy and descended to her knees. She put her arms around him and hugged him to her bony chest. After a while Thomas could feel her body shivering, and he knew that she was crying for his mother.

“I was born in a war, Tommy,” she whispered to him. “I remember being a child. I was very frightened, and we were running down a dirt road. It was my mother and father and older brother, Xi’an. There were big bombs falling, and every-­where they fell fire went up like dragons in a child’s story­book. And we ran and ran, and I wondered, even when I was running, where was I coming from? Where was I going?

“And then my father fell down. I tried to reach for him, but my mother grabbed me and pushed me to run. And then my big brother fell and later my mother. And then I was run-­fling all by myself and I didn’t know where I came from and I didn’t know where I was going. There was blood on the American T—shirt that I wore for a dress. It was my mother’s blood. I still have it in a chest in my closet, the dress that has my mother’s blood on the hem.”

Then Ahn took Thomas by his shoulders and brought her face up close to his.

“You are like I was,” she said. “Your mother has fallen and you must go oil. You have to keep on going even though you do not know where you go. It is all we can do. Do you under­stand me?”

Thomas understood her fingers digging into his skin and her desperate eyes still looking for her mother somewhere in his. And so he nodded and said, “Yes, Ahn I know.”

“Then put on your nice clothes and come down and go to the funeral.”

The last time Thomas had worn nice things was to see his father in the hotel restaurant. He dressed himself and went downstairs. , he knew, had gone to Eric’s room to help him dress. Eric didn’t need her, but she always helped him anyway.

They all got into a long black car driven by a black man who wore a cap with a shiny black brim. They drove to a big church in a neighborhood where there were mostly black people like him and his mother walking up and down the street, sitting out in front of their houses laughing and talk­ing, even delivering the mail. Not just black-skinned people but brown too all kinds of browns. Maple-syrup colored and redbrick brown, the brown you find in every wood from pine to cherry, oak to ebony. There were people that looked as though they had deep tans and some that shone like gold and copper and bronze. People of color. The phrase came into Thomas’s mind. He had heard it in school, and he knew that it applied to him and the people around his mother’s funeral.

The church was big and cool, with a dozen stained-glass windows that had pictures of Jesus and other dignitaries from the Bible. Many a black and brown woman came up to him and called him “poor darling” and “little lamb” while he and Eric walked together, looking around at the vastness of the house of worship.

Most of the people inside the church were of color too. Thomas wondered if all these people knew his mother. Most of them he didn’t recognize. But there were a few familiar faces. He saw his grandmother Madeline, and there was Ira Fontanot, whom he recognized from the Rib Joint. For a brief moment he saw his father, Elton, standing along the side of the pews.

Ahn rushed the boys along until they were sitting in the front row. There, before them, was a coffin set upon a dais under a podium on a pulpit.

“Mama Branwyn’s in there,” Eric whispered, an uncom­mon awe in his voice.

A minister in long black robes edged in red came up to the podium and said Branwyn’s name and then sang a little. Then he said things about Thomas’s mother that the boy didn’t understand. They were nice words, but they had little to do with the mother he knew. It wasn’t so much what he said but all the things he left out. He didn’t say, for instance, how Branwyn was so good at seeing faces in the pitted surfaces of stones.

“You see,” she’d say, “there’s the nose arid here’s the eye.”

“But he on’y got one eye,” Thomas had said. “Where’s the other one?”

“He’s standing sideways and you can only see his left eye.” This made Thomas laugh so much that his mother called him silly.

He didn’t talk about when she would pull on his toes when he was going to sleep at night, counting them one, two, three, four, five. Or when she’d pick flowers and put them into her hair and take Dr. Nolan into her arms and dance him around the kitchen.

The minister called her a good mother and devoted daughter, but he didn’t say how she’d stay up all night with him and Eric when they were sick. He made her sound like a flat pic­ture in a book rather than his mother with her warm skin and sweet breath.

Somewhere in the middle of the long sermon, Thomas started crying. He wanted Dr. Nolan to go up there and tell everybody what his mother was really like. He wanted to go home and let his knees sink into the floor.

“Do you want to go up and say good-bye to your mother?” Minas Nolan asked Thomas when the sermon was over and the organ player had started her sad song.

“No,” Thomas said.

“Are you sure? It’s your last chance to see her.”

“I can’t,” Thomas said in a high whine. “I can’t.”

Dr. Nolan began to cry. He picked up the boy and rushed out of the church. He brought Tommy to the long black car and got in with him in the backseat.

“To the cemetery, Dr. Nolan?” the black driver asked.

“No, no. Take us to the restaurant. I’ll, I’ll go see her later. Later.”

Tommy buried his face in the fabric of Dr. Nolan’s jacket. He closed his eyes and held his breath but nothing would stop him from crying.

When they got to the Rib joint, Tommy and Dr. Nolan sat outside in the car until the boy could sit back and talk.

“It’s okay,” Dr. Nolan told him. “We’re all very sad.”

“How could it be okay to be so sad?”

“Because we all loved her so much.”

Tommy got up on his knees and put his arms around the doctor’s neck. He held tight but was no longer crying. They stayed like that, holding each other until the families began to arrive from the cemetery.


While many Walter Mosley fans stick solely to his Easy Rawlins character, Fortunate Son, provides a whole new cast of characters. While some of them come across as caricatures, the main characters have depth that will resonate for many readers who will enjoy reading Fortunate Son, and will reflect on which boy was the fortunate one.


Steve Hopkins, June 26, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the July 2006 issue of Executive Times


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