"What's the story supposed to mean?" Chip Lowe asks his friend, Socrates Fortlow in "Rascals in the Cane", one of twelve short stories found in Walter Mosley's novel Walkin' The Dog. That question has many layers of meaning in this text. Is Lowe asking about Fortlow's Aunt Bellandra's story about escaped slaves, or is he asking about the larger story of the African American experience in the United States? Is the author posing the question to the reader?
The idea of story comes through much stronger in Mosley's Socrates Fortlow novels than in the Easy Rawlins series. Indeed, the proceeding Fortlow book, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, had the feeling of being short stories collected into novel form. Walkin' The Dog feels like a novel made up of intersecting short stories.
The stories rotate around the responsibilities Socrates feels he owes people. Darryl, a boy Socrates he befriended in the preceding novel, looks to Socrates as a father figure. At his new job at the Bounty supermarket he is looked upon as a hard and reliable worker. His dog Killer, a two legged dog Socrates saved from death, looks to Socrates as a master. To his friends that meet once a week to discuss life and the African American plight, he is viewed as a wise conversationalist.
As with any Mosley novel, crime and death weave their way into his life. When a thug tries to rob Socrates, Socrates kills him. Despite the circumstances involved in the man's death, Socrates feels responsibility. He helps prepare the young man's body for burial. He gives his respects to the bereaved family. Socrates, an ex-convict and near homeless individual, shows more responsibility than most other people in the community.
In the final story, "Rouge", Socrates does something for the community that costs him his home, his job, and even his dog. When a cop acts above the law in the community where Socrates lives, he starts a one man protest. The protest sparks an uprising and Fortlow couldn't imagine how far reaching his little signs would shake the establishment. He loses some responsibilities in favor of the larger civic responsibilities that he feels compelled to adhere to.
Unlike Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned which conveyed a sense of hopelessness, Walkin' The Dog has a more positive tone. Not that there aren't some difficulties encountered along the way. Not that there are easy solutions to any of these difficulties. But there is hope found in these short stories, the hope that tomorrow will bring better opportunities. As Aunt Bellandra says, "Just that one sweet note and everything is sometimes turnt around." Walkin' The Dog ends on that possibility.
All text (C) 2000 LCB
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