Book review: Walter Mosely's "RL's Dream"

John Reimann

“And RL cracked a smile that woulda made a sweet girl’s photograph cry.” There are such beautifully descriptive sentences scattered throughout Walter Mosley’s 1995 novel “RL’s Dream”. The novel is formally about a black bluesman from the Mississippi delta, but in reality it’s a history of the blues, meaning something of the history of black people in the United States. No one book can tell such a history completely, no more than a single book – or even a series of books — can cover any such broad subject. But in focusing on one particular aspect of that broad history, Mosely really brings it to life.

It’s like this: You can read about some atrocity in which 500 entire families are killed. But the statistic is so broad that it has a lot less impact than reading the history of one particular individual who was caught up in that. “RL’s Dream” isn’t only about the atrocity that is US history and the experience of black people; it’s about a lot more. It really brings the meaning of the blues to life, or at least Mosley’s understanding of that meaning. It’s about one particular man navigating his way through a hard life – and others around him doing the same. And all the while, Mosley has those wonderfully descriptive phrases and entire paragraphs.

“Science and socialism go hand-in-hand.” Felicity Dowling
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