Killing Johnny Fry A sexistential novel

Walter Mosley

Book - 2007

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New York : Bloomsbury Pub. : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers 2007.
Main Author
Walter Mosley (-)
1st U.S. ed
Physical Description
280 p.
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

Interviewing Martin Luther King Jr. HISTORIANS of the civil rights era have long recognized the impact of the press on the character and pace of the movement. From William Bradford Huie's graphic 1955 interview with the unrepentant killers of Emmett Till to the televised images of Bull Connor's attack dogs snapping at young demonstrators in the streets of Birmingham to the eyewitness accounts of the beatings of voting rights marchers in Selma, Ala., the power of the pen and the camera has been memorable. Until now, however, no one has offered an in-depth analysis of how and why the news media came to play such an important role in the struggle for racial justice. In "The Race Beat," the veteran journalists Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff painstakingly trace the evolution of civil rights press coverage in the South from the publication of "An American Dilemma," by Gunnar Myrdal, in 1944 to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Myrdal, an economist and a Swede, was no journalist. But he was probably the first observer, the authors say, to argue that "the future of race relations ... rested largely in the hands of the American press." The best antidote to racial prejudice and discrimination, Myrdal believed, was the dissemination of accurate information. "There is no doubt," he wrote, "that a great majority of white people in America would be prepared to give the Negro a substantially better deal if they knew the facts." At the time, as Roberts and Klibanoff point out, "the black press was at the center of a developing Negro protest in the United States. But if the protest were to succeed, the mainstream press - the white press - would have to discover racial discrimination and write about it so candidly and so repeatedly that white Americans outside the South could no longer look the other way. Then they would see segregation, white supremacy and black disfranchisement as being at odds with the American conscience ... and demand change." Roberts, a former managing editor of The New York Times, and Klibanoff, the managing editor for news at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, demonstrate how this hopeful equation became a reality in the two decades after World War II. The mainstream press was slow to grasp the significance of the civil rights story; as late as 1955, the New York Times reporter John Popham, who had been covering the South since 1947, "remained the only correspondent assigned to the region for a national newspaper." But with the landmark Supreme Court decisions and the racial convulsions of the mid-1950s, the press could no longer ignore what was happening in places like Montgomery and Little Rock. And neither could the American public. In the post-Brown era, the escalating struggle between civil rights activists and die-hard segregationists became the nation's most gripping domestic news story, though, as the authors note, coverage was frequently consigned to the inside pages of newspapers preoccupied with electoral politics and the international drama of the cold war. "The Race Beat" is very much an insider's account. Roberts and Klibanoff are sensitive to the details and challenges of journalistic practice: the complex relationship between editorial and news divisions; the politics of newsroom assignments; the strengths and weaknesses of competing wire services; the placement and longevity of news stories; the impact of libel laws and the legal oversight of newspapers; the role of management and financial constraints; the differences among print, television and radio coverage; and the significance of having correspondents on the scene. Having worked on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, each man is also keenly aware of the difficulty of achieving fairness and avoiding advocacy in an emotionally charged setting laden with stereotypes. The result is a richly textured and balanced narrative that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the news media, as well as the personal and contingent factors - the subtle negotiations, missed opportunities and sometimes heroic efforts - that influenced the on-the-ground coverage of the movement and its opponents. No brief review can do justice to the varied cast of characters that populated the race beat during the 1950s and '60s. But readers should pay particular attention to Harry Ashmore, the liberal Arkansas editor who gained national attention during the 1957 Little Rock crisis; to the black journalists Moses Newson and Simeon Booker, who provided pioneering coverage of the Emmett Till trial for black newspaper and magazine readers and later risked their lives traveling with the Freedom Riders in 1961; and to Claude Sitton, the Georgia-born journalist who served as The New York Times's chief Southern correspondent from 1958 to 1964. With considerable justification, the authors characterize Sitton as one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. "Nobody in the news business," they insist, "would have as much impact as he would - on the reporting of the civil rights movement, on the federal government's response or on the movement itself." While the book's emphasis is on the national media, Roberts and Klibanoff also survey the regional press, providing incisive portraits of black editors like Emory Jackson of Birmingham, moderate and liberal dissenters like Hodding Carter of Mississippi , and die-hard segregationists like James Jackson Kilpatrick of Virginia and Thomas Waring of South Carolina. Their stories, and the fateful choices of a not-so-distant past, are worth pondering in an imperfect democracy still grappling with both the burdens of race and the responsibilities of a free press. After ignoring the story for years, the news media came to play a major role in the struggle for civil rights. Raymond Arsenault, the author of "Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice," is currently a visiting professor of history at the University of Chicago.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Booklist Review

Though he's best at crime novels, Mosley has been busy reinventing himself as an all-around writer of high purpose, trying his hand, with mixed results, at literary fiction, political essay, and science fiction. Despite its noiresque title, this one represents a surprising new direction: what Mosley calls the sexistential novel. Mild-mannered Cordell Carmel drops by his longtime girlfriend's apartment unannounced and finds her having the orgasm of her life with another man. Carmel sneaks out unseen, disturbed and aroused. Obsessed with a movie that seems to mirror his situation, he transforms from passive nice guy to sexual aggressor--and soon finds himself having the sex of his life, with a series of beautiful, adoring women. Adrift and confused, he keeps going, hoping to find himself by losing control. It's hard to know how much of Mosley's audience will want to follow him on this explicitly sexual journey. The sex scenes are compelling, but the story loses its way; it might be too much sex for some readers and too little novel for others. In a way, it contains the same contradictions as a big-budget porno movie that uses a self-important story line to lend the project an air of legitimacy, then drives home the message that our baser sexual instincts are nothing to be ashamed of. Mosley deserves kudos for his courage, but let's hope sexistentialism is a one-night stand. --Keir Graff Copyright 2006 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Mosley returns from the vastly underrated Fortunate Son and from Fear of the Dark with a piece of what one might call "deep erotica": there's plenty of sex, and also plenty of motivation for it within protagonist Cordel Carmel's travails and ruminations, as far-fetched as they can get. After a charged-but-chaste lunch with young Lucy Carmichael (a blonde in her early 20s looking to be introduced to Cordel's art agent friend), Cordel, 45, walks in on Joelle (his longtime, non-live-in girlfriend): Joelle's being very consensually sodomized by a white man wearing a red condom, their (very well-endowed) mutual acquaintance, Johnny Fry. Cordel walks out quietly, without being seen. In short order, Cordel buys a porno video and gets enraptured with its sadist star, Sisypha; quits his freelance-translation gig; has conflicted, amazing sex with Joelle (who continues to lie to him); has unconflicted, amazing sex with Lucy (who seems very nice) and with voluptuous neighbor Sasha Bennett (who seems way crazy); meets Sisypha for an Eyes Wide Shut-like experience; seduces the young, ghetto Monica Wells; and finally, within the week, has his confrontation with Johnny Fry. Though it all, Cordel's thoughts on humiliation, submission, pain, family, aging and abuse manage to sustain the wisp-thin plot of this total male fantasy. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Like his last two adult novels (The Wave and Fortunate Son), Mosley's latest is a departure from his best-selling Easy Rawlins mysteries. His protagonist, 45-year-old translator Cordell Carmel, considers himself lucky that girlfriend Joelle is so undemanding that they spend only one night a week together. Stopping by Joelle's apartment unannounced one day, he discovers her with another man, aspiring musician Johnny Fry. That night, Cordell buys his first X-rated DVD and begins a journey of sexual self-discovery. Watching The Myth of Sisypha, the vividly described adult film he has purchased, opens Cordell's eyes to a world of sex and power, pleasure and pain. He explores his renewed sexual energy with a young photographer he's helping, an attractive neighbor, a French student he meets on the subway, and Sisypha herself. Mosley's decision to subtitle the book "a sexistenial novel" implies a more philosophical approach to sexuality than the gratuitous sexual episodes described here. Recommended only for libraries with strong demand for all of Mosley's work.-Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

And now for something completely different from Easy Rawlins' prolific creator (Cinnamon Kiss, 2005, etc.), who's branching out into still another genre. Cordell Carmel, a middle-aged New York translator everybody calls "L," decides one afternoon on his way to a conference to wait a few hours for a first-class train to Philadelphia. Heading over to girlfriend Joelle Petty's apartment, he finds her sharing a frantic embrace with Johnny Fry, a white man who'd like to switch from being a personal trainer to playing classical guitar. Instead of calling attention to himself, L leaves quietly (though he does turn back briefly when he thinks Jo is crying out in pain) and proceeds to pull down the edifice of his carefully constructed life. He smashes his hand against a brick wall, orders a high-fat meal, buys an expensive bottle of cognac and takes home a porn video, The Myth of Sisypha, that puts him in touch with his appetite for passion and pain. The next day, after missing the conference and infuriating his agent, L begins to grab every chance at a new life. He reinvents himself as an agent for photographer Lucy Carmichael, flirts with female acquaintances and takes three of them to bed, then returns to Jo bent on getting some of the kind of wild, crazy sex she's been enjoying with Johnny. But it's The Myth of Sisypha that has the most profound impact on L, and when he has a chance to meet the video's star and embark on a series of scenarios that cross the line from NC-17 to XXX, his obsessions with getting off and killing Johnny are joined by another kind of desire as tender as it is unlikely. An interesting look at a male in midlife crisis. As L says, "I had come alive. And life hurt." Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.