From: John Williams (
Date: 18 Nov 2007

I was a bit less enthusiastic than Vicki about this, as the below review suggests


Killing Johnny Fry - Walter Mosley

Misgivings about Walter Mosley's new book start with the subtitle, 'a sexistential novel'. It's all too redolent of the early sixties, a long-lost era when poets with comb-overs wrote erotic fiction for Grove or Olympia and tried to seduce any young female in a fifty yard radius. Still, it does at least warn the reader that what lurks between the covers is not another LA-set crime story featuring Easy Rawlins or Fearless Jones, Mosley's two regular protagonists. No, this is a novel whose subject is sexual desire, and one which is more than happy to plunge into the outright pornographic in making its point.

Not since Nicholson Baker's Vox, a decade or so ago, has a critically regarded novelist written anything as outright filthy as Killing Johnny Fry. It starts with its hero, a black man called Cordell Carmel, walking in on his girlfriend, Joelle (also black) as she's being ecstatically buggered by a white man called Johnny Fry, who is mostly remarkable for this size of his dick (apologies, but it would be absurd to go for the genteel euphemism in a review of a book like this).

Cordell initially just watches and leaves. He doesn't confront the lovers, but nonetheless his life is entirely changed. He feels that this revelation has woken him up from a life he's been sleepwalking through, accepting his once a week missionary position sex as all life can offer. Now he knows different. Over the next week, he quits his (mysteriously well paid) job as a translator and concentrates on investigating his very own sexual heart of darkness. This involves his having hot revenge sex with Joelle, more hot sex with a cute young photographer, and even hotter sex with his upstairs neighbour. All this is described in lascivious detail and is mostly pretty sexy, though, for this reader at least, a little heavy on the analingus.

The first half of the novel also sees Mosley doing a decent job of evoking the pains and excitements involved in discovering a lover's infidelity. At this point Killing Johnny Fry is shaping up as an
(in)decent slice of pornographic urban noir, somewhat in the vein of Elizabeth McNeil's Nine and a Half Weeks (a much better book than film), with just a hint of the sexual angst so powerfully evoked in another book by a black Los Angeleno, Charles Mingus' autobiography Beneath The Underdog.

Unfortunately the second half drifts into an unconvincing fantasy which sees Cornell meeting a mysterious black porn star called Sisypha (one can only imagine how thrilled Camus would have been at the tip of the hat) who drugs him, then leads him through a rather over familiar Manhattan underworld of bizarre sex fetish clubs. The effect is a little like someone relating the contents of an erotic dream they've had and would like to make sense of (there was this kind of sex clown and then I was in this boxing match….) Interesting perhaps to a therapist or a lover, but for the regular reader there is both too much information and not enough.

As a result any identification one had built up with Cordell's predicament starts to evaporate. And, by the time he emerges from this dream to attempt some kind of closure in his various relationships, I had lost interest. In the final analysis it's hard not to see Killing Johny Fry as frankly a bit of a wank, a public display of material - albeit interesting, even important, material - that its author has yet to fully work through.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 18 Nov 2007 EST