Walter Mosley: “Familiar Music” from Tin House, Summer 2011

We talked like that from the beginning, in a meandering way that had a kind of circuitous logic. There was a weave to the conversation, a crossing over and then returning, skipping over and reaching past, then back again.

Bill Laughton works for Craighton’s Cartons. But it’s ok, by the end he learns to think outside the box.

The story starts with a very detailed minute-by-minute account of the afternoon on which he quits, and then we go back from there to learn about his relationship with Portia Liand, the temp, and Annabelle Lee, his neighbor and sometimes sex partner. There has to be something going on with the names here. Annabelle Lee? Portia? Hawthorne? I’m just not clever enough to pick up a pattern. Then there’s the title. That’s kind of my problem with the story in general: it’s a good read, but I’m pretty sure there’s something I’m just not getting. But it’s not the story’s fault I’m stupid.

Portia and Annabelle are in some ways opposites, in some ways the same. He knows Portia only from work, Annabelle only from his apartment building. They’re both younger than he is. Portia is a dark-skinned black woman, a dancer who doesn’t like choreography; Annabelle is white, with a seven-year-old son, and a much older man who pays her rent. Bill himself is a light-skinned black man, 45. When I start recounting demographics about characters, I know I’ve lost the essence of the story, but it really was a better read than that. I loved the conversations Portia and Bill had, the kind of looping around referred to in the above quote. There’s some symbolism, I’m thinking, involved in a necklace with three opals. He bought it for Annabelle but she can’t take it because of her sugar daddy. He tries to give it to Portia but she doesn’t want it. He tries to marry both of them, but both say no. He spends a couple of days drinking. And when Portia’s temp assignment is up and Virginia Hawthorne returns to glare at him for coming back late from lunch, he quits his job.

I feel bad that I missed the story. I have to say I’m delighted to see someone use “nauseated” instead of “nauseous” but, like character descriptions, that’s hardly a glowing recommendation. I’m worried about this Summer Reading 2011 issue. So far I’m not doing too well with it. I’ve been picking stories at random; maybe I should’ve started at the beginning and read through like I usually do.

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3 responses to “Walter Mosley: “Familiar Music” from Tin House, Summer 2011

    • Hi Liz, it’s so nice that someone else is a grammar geek! There’s been a lot of nausea around here lately – the PEN/O.Henry story “Ice” also correctly used “nauseated” though Zin forgot to mention it (I think some editors have been vigilant). And because it’s shown up in two stories, we noticed it last night while watching Food Network Star that it was misused. By people who were truly nauseous. You might be the only one who gets the joke there.

  1. Pingback: Food Network Star 2011 Episode 4: Cougar Town and Paula Deen « A Just Recompense

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