The Man in My Basement: A Novel

by Walter Mosley

Hardcover, 2004

Call number




Little, Brown and Company (2004), 192 pages


Fiction. African American Fiction. Mystery. Thriller. HTML:Hailed as a masterpiece-the finest work yet by an American novelist of the first rank-this is the mysterious story of a young black man who agrees to an unusual bargain to save the home that has belonged to his family for generations. The man at Charles Blakey's door has a proposition almost too strange for words. The stranger offers him $50,000 in cash to spend the summer in Charles's basement, and Charles cannot even begin to guess why. The beautiful house has been in the Blakey family for generations, but Charles has just lost his job and is behind on his mortgage payments. The money would be welcome. But Charles Blakey is black and Anniston Bennet is white, and it is clear that the stranger wants more than a basement view. There is something deeper and darker about his request, and Charles does not need any more trouble. But financial necessity leaves him no choice. Once Anniston Bennet is installed in his basement, Charles is cast into a role he never dreamed of. Anniston has some very particular requests for his landlord, and try as he might, Charles cannot avoid being lured into Bennet's strange world. At first he resists, but soon he is tempted�tempted to understand a set of codes that has always eluded him, tempted by the opportunity to understand the secret ways of white folks. Charles's summer with a man in his basement turns into an exploration of inconceivable worlds of power and manipulation, and unimagined realms of humanity. Walter Mosley pierces long-hidden veins of justice and morality with startling insight into the deepest mysteries of human nature.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member JFBallenger
Another absorbing book from Walter Mosley, who continues to stretch well beyond his popular (and extraordinary) series of Easy Rawlins mystery novels. The plot is simple and trades masterfully in the elements of the noir fiction of which Mosley is a master. Charles Blakey, the narrator, is a black
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man in his thirties living listlessly alone in his deceased parents house -- a beautiful and spacious home that has been in his family for generations. He has just lost his job and cannot get another, and has fallen so badly behind in his mortgage payments that he is in danger of losing the house. Mysteriously, a middle-aged white man calling himself Anniston Bennet shows up at his door one day, asking to rent his basement cellar for the summer and promising to pay an amount of money that would solve Blakey's financial trouble. Though deeply suspicious, Blakey cannot refuse the deal and enters into a twisted and illuminating relationship in which he becomes at once the stranger's jailer, servant, apprentice, and confessor. Mosley uses their relationship to explore broad themes of race, power, morality, global justice and responsibility.

My only significant criticism of the book is that some of the secondary characters seem somewhat hastily and crudely developed. This is significant because they play an important role in the novel, presenting contrasts and extensions of what is going on with Blakey and Bennet. This is a very quick read; I would've liked to see Mosley spend some more pages developing the minor characters as well.
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LibraryThing member Bookmarque
Basically this is a novel disguised as a character/philosophical study. Anniston Bennet wants to atone for his perceived sins as well as his real sins. Charles Blakey is an aimless man looking for a philosophy that will allow him to continue his lifestyle without the nagging guilt of wasting his
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life. Anniston gives that to him during the incarceration he so longs for. He’s looking for permission in a sense and that’s why he adopts Anniston’s philosophy of life which is basically that bad things are going to happen anyway so what difference does it make that I am the cause. He also uses various authority figures to exculpate him and give him a scapegoat for blame. Because Charles doesn’t plan on hurting or killing anyone or assisting puppet régimes, he feels that he can continue his basically meaningless existence just fine since it doesn’t matter anyway.

But then he gets meaning. Before there was a man in his basement, there was the detritus of many Blakey generations. He cleaned it out with the help of a friend and that friend told him that the stuff is probably worth a lot of money and hooks him up with a woman who can appraise and sell the stuff. Turns out that he was right and the ‘junk’ is of historical significance. After toying with the idea of selling it all, the woman suggests they open a museum instead. Granted they wouldn’t see as much money, but he would be able to keep his ‘collection’ and still use it for good. He decides to do this, but without her help. Nice.

By this time he has collected the entire generous fee Anniston paid him to rent out the basement. The role of warden suited Charles in many ways; it allowed him to control another human being which considering he could barely control himself, was a new sensation, it allowed him to channel his cruel streak by punishing Anniston for infractions to rules they had in place that were designed to get Charles what he wanted without much harm to himself. But the question and answer sessions taught Charles a lot about himself as well as about his prisoner. In the end, Anniston killed himself and Charles buried the body in the family graveyard.

This money frees him from the need to sell his collection and the further bonus of another house in the Hamptons, gives him the financial freedom to continue his basically idle existence without the consequences that were plaguing him prior to that knock on his door. With his new philosophy and money he can drink, womanize and basically do nothing with impunity.

The narrative style was excellent; full of unusual and very fitting word choices. There was a lot of sex and I don’t know if that’s a Moseley thing or just Charles as a character.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
Walter Mosley was one of the keynote authors at last week's NCIBA conference for independent book stores. I grabbed this book because I wanted to read something by him before the conference. Wow - what an amazing author! Although Mosley is best known as a creator of the Easy Rawlins mystery series,
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a story like The Man in My Basement really falls into the literary fiction category. We tend to judge mystery authors differently than other authors. Usually, we're looking for a good plot with lots of twists and believable characters. But we forgive our mystery authors if the writing style is lacking or even formulaic. Well, there is no need to forgive Mr. Mosley. His writing style is tight and descriptive, with each word carefully chosen and placed.

The title character of this book is Charles Blakey. At age 33, Charles has failed at everything in life. He is unemployed and blacklisted in the town because he was suspected of stealing money from the bank he worked at. He lives in his family home, but is at risk of losing it because he can't keep up with the payments. It seems like he has little hope left, when a white stranger, Anniston Bennet offers Blakey $50,000 if he can live in his basement for several weeks. Although Blakey is suspicious of this odd request, he is desperate for the money and accepts the offer. Bennet moves into Blakey's basement and Blakey assumes the strange role of warden as Bennet voluntarily imprisons himself in the basement. The book covers several complex themes of ancestry, crime, punishment, and ultimately redemption. Definitely a complicated book that will stay with me for awhile.
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LibraryThing member LastCall
A deceptively simple tale. There is a lot more going on here then the simple prose indicates. There is character growth but no finality to that growth. He will continue forward well past the ending.
LibraryThing member Djupstrom
Ok book. I think it was a social commentary on slavery. I think. It was alright. Nothing to write home about.
LibraryThing member Magadri
Not an easy read, but definitely rewarding. I just happened to come across this book in a bargain bin at Barnes & Noble, and I still can't for the life of me figure out why it was in a bargain bin-- it should have been showcased!
LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
A poor black man named Charles Blakey, who can't get a job and is about to lose his family's house, is one day approached a very rich white man named Anniston Bennett. Bennett is interested in living in Blakey's basement - not just as a tenant but as a prisoner. He'll give Charles enough money to
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comfortably live off of, and in return Charles feeds him and keeps him in confinement

But Bennett has a dark past that needs to be uncovered - and while he works on it, Charles has to work on his own past, and present. The Man in My Basement is an excellent and thought-provoking story about guilt and responsibility
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LibraryThing member WintersRose
Walter Mosley's book portrays a young, unemployed, alcoholic, irresponsible black man, Charles Blakely, who allows a white powerbroker, Anniston Bennet, to take up residence in a cage in his family home in exchange for a large sum of money. Charles's conversations with Bennet about good and evil
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and power cause Charles to evaluate his life. The women in Charles's life--the passionate Bethany, the antiquities dealer, Narciss, and the wealthy white girl, Extine, as well as an elderly neighbor, Irene--all invest Charles with qualities they imagine they see in him, but Charles hasn't figured out who he really is. He feels that even his best friends Clarence and Ricky really have no idea who he is. Charles develops a sense of responsibility toward the heritage his family has left him, but by the end of the book still hasn't figured out how to connect with the people in his life in a meaningful way.

This is a book that will keep your attention and provoke a lot of thought. The image of the African masks that are part of Charles's inheritance, Charles's conversations with Anniston Bennet, and Charles's thought about himself and his role in life bring real depth to this novel. It's defnitely worth a second read.
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LibraryThing member captom
Allegory of race, power and the American way
LibraryThing member maryreinert
I was truly drawn into the novel during the perhaps the first half of the book, and then it just got too bizarre. First, Charles is such an unappealing character and the man in the basement is just not believable. I'm sure there is a lot of philosophy regarding atonement, evil, sin, justification,
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etc., but it just didn't touch a nerve with me that I was hoping that it would.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Charles Blakey is a young, unemployed man living in a house inherited from his parents. He has a mortgage, no prospects for future employment and not much meaning in his life. Along comes Mr. Bennet, who wants to rent the basement....more than that, he wants to be imprisoned in the basement, with
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Charles as his jailer, to atone for his crimes. A bit creepy.

The unlikeliness of this scenario is overcome by the strong character development of Charles. Having a man locked in the basement changes him, puts him more in touch with himself and his ancestry. It is, ultimately, a very disturbing but satisfying book as it raises many moral issues.

Like others, I found the weakness to be the secondary characters, who were less well-developed but important for the impacts they had on Charles.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Charles Blakey, now unemployed because he stole money from a bank while working there, receives an unusual request from Anniston Bennet. Bennet wishes to rent his basement for a couple of months, paying Blakey an extraordinary amount of money for the privilege. Since Blakey owes money to friends,
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cannot find another job because of being blackballed by the bank's manager, and may lose the ancestral home because he cannot pay the mortgage, he reluctantly accepts the offer along with some strange conditions. Bennet sent boxes ahead with instructions for constructing his domicile for his stay. The assembled product looks very much like a prison cell. Bennet expects Blakey to be his jailer for the duration of his stay. Blakey probes into Bennet's life and Bennet reveals his intimate knowledge of Blakey's own life. Strange book. While this is definitely "not my genre" and appears to be more male-oriented, particularly when it comes to the types of vulgarity included from time to time, it was not as bad as expected. I did not identify with any of the characters. I doubt I will read anything else by the author, but at least I read one book from cover to cover.
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LibraryThing member Borrows-N-Wants
Not an easy read, but definitely rewarding. I just happened to come across this book in a bargain bin at Barnes & Noble, and I still can't for the life of me figure out why it was in a bargain bin-- it should have been showcased!
LibraryThing member nkmunn
This protagonist is a one of a kind - five stars to Mosley for realizing Charles Blakey and his community and it's relationship to history, current events, tragedy and the wider world.

I listened to the audiobook - narrator Ernie Hudson was superb !
LibraryThing member Pepperwings
Not *quite* a thriller or horror book, but it feels like it belongs in that category.
A fairly ordinary man in this 30s, Charles was recently let go from his job and feels like he has no direction in life, and no one really sees him, he's as good as invisible.
He's approached by a stranger, asking to
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rent his basement--Charlie immediately dismisses the idea, he doesn't want a housemate. It's only later when he finds he's late on his mortgage payment, and no one in town will hire him, that he starts to reconsider renting out his basement.
But why is this strange fellow asking to rent his dusty old basement?
This story gets more and more strange, and yet it doesn't fully tip into the supernatural that horror tends to, but some of the concepts are so bizarre it seems like it could. I felt very unresolved at the end of this book, but the writing is excellent, and thought-provoking.
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LibraryThing member BibliophageOnCoffee
The type of book that keeps you reading but fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion. I still enjoyed it overall, but I was hoping for more.


Audie Award (Finalist — Mystery — 2005)
Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (Nominee — Fiction — 2005)




0316570826 / 9780316570824
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