The Wave

by Walter Mosley

Published by Warner Books

209 pages, 2006





Who's Your Daddy Now?

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


To a certain degree, Walter Mosley's fans already know what they're in for when they pick up one of this author's books. Mosley is a wonderful writer. His prose is lyrical, yet plain and direct. His stories tend to be touching and human, yet they maintain an edge. And his voice is such that, as soon as you begin to read, you get the feeling you could just sit there and listen to this storyteller all day. Walter Mosley is the real deal.

Most often Mosley delivers crime fiction, as countless fans of his Easy Rawlins novels will attest. Sometimes he goes short, as with the novella, The Man in the Basement. Sometimes he goes long. Sometimes he brings us straight up literary fiction. And, ever so occasionally, he brings us science fiction. Long story short: Mosley is writer enough to not concern himself overmuch with the genre of the thing he is creating. Presumably, he has people to worry about that for him, leaving Mosley himself to just worry about making good books.

Unfortunately The Wave isn't one of those.

The Wave starts off engagingly enough. Night after night, Errol Porter is being woken by what he at first thinks are prank calls.

"...naked, naked... I don't have any so cold..."

"Who is this?" I asked.

"So cold," the voice said again.

After a few false starts and a bit of investigation, Errol discovers that the calls are being made by a young man who thinks he's Errol's father, who died as an old man, some eight years earlier. There is a strong physical resemblance, plus the young man has access to some fairly personal details. Still, Errol thinks. Still. Dead is a dead and old is old. The young man must be some half brother -- some illegitimate half brother -- Errol and his family never knew about. After all, he reasons, what else could it be?

Errol asks the young man his name:

"Good Times," he said with a smile. "Three times good times. Me."

This last syllable came out like a drumbeat. Something about it made me chuckle. Good Times liked to see me smile. He patted me on the shoulder like a demented child petting a dog.

Errol shortens this moniker to "GT" and, feeling sorry for the homeless and slightly deranged young man, lets him stay at his place. Close proximity doesn't make Errol's uneasiness about the young man go away, however. If anything, more and more he finds himself wondering: how GT could know that and that and that. GT has details about Errol's family's life that seem too intimate to have been shared. However, Errol knows what is and what he sees and he remains skeptical.

Errol's sister, when she meets the young man, doesn't have the same reservations.

The shock registering on my sister's face brought me all the way back to our childhood. Her wide eyes gawked, and her jaw dropped down as if there weren't a bone in it.


"Baby girl," GT said.

He went to sit by her and folded her in his arms.

The Wave goes along in this vein quite nicely for a while, developing the characters of the perhaps deluded GT and the skeptical but worthy Errol. Clearly something is going on, and Mosley brings it in our direction skillfully. Then, not quite halfway into the novel, all hell breaks lose -- for both Errol and the reader -- and nothing is ever quite the same when the novel shifts from the deliciously impossible -- a quite comfortable place for a speculative novel to be -- to the implausible -- which is never comfortable for anyone. Mosley has a trio of rapidly sketched federal types break in on Errol at a pottery sale and cart him off to points barely known.

At a highly secret government facility (complete with underground bunkers beyond the facade of an orange farm) a handful of mad scientists give Errol the details he's been lacking. I won't give it all away here, but the feds feel that GT is part of a threat to homeland security. One of many entities whose very existence, Errol discovers, pose a threat to the future of humankind. And, truly, the plot itself is not the problem here. Rather, after the pottery sale, Mosley's execution seems uncharacteristically hurried and even sketchy. All of the key elements are here, sure. And the possibilities of the story Mosley developed seem very real. But at times, the second half of The Wave feels like an early draft, with major plot turns sketched in and awaiting fleshing out.

There is also, perhaps, political motivation here. Which is fine. But the integration between Mosley's art and the statement of his political views is sometimes flawed. That is, the statement is occasionally too easy to see and, in the end, it seems at times to compromise the art.

Now, don't misunderstand: Mosley is -- indisputably -- a master. And the very least of his work stands up to the best of many other writers. However, again: this is Mosley. We know what he's capable of. The Wave isn't it. | February 2006


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several novels.