Skip to main content

John Woman

Review

John Woman

Bestselling author Walter Mosley, known to thousands for his riveting, pulse-driving mysteries such as the Easy Rawlins series, gives us in JOHN WOMAN not so much a “whodunit” as a “whydunit,” a twist on the detective novel genre at which he is so adept.

Cornelius “CC” Jones is not an impressionable kid, but is influenced heavily by the relationships he has with each of his separated parents: the Mississippi-born and -raised Herman Jones and the Italian-American Lucia Napoli. Herman is a self-taught philosopher and anthropologist who runs the projection booth of an East Village theater, when he is not espousing the importance of literature, education and, above all else, history. While Herman lives in his mind, Lucia is a woman of palpable passions, who probably shares too much detail about her past and her pleasures with her curious CC.

When Lucia disappears one day and Herman becomes incapacitated, 16-year-old CC has no recourse but to take over as projectionist and breadwinner for the family. What happens next is a murder that sets the course for the remainder of the book and the rest of CC’s life.

"Mosley’s writing is like good jazz, full of the unexpected. This award-winning artist gives us an original story with philosophical ponderings and a penetrating look at race, sexuality, class and education."

Fast forward several years, and CC has evolved into a complex version of his parents’ two greatest strengths. Now known as John Woman, he has become an educator, a sharer of great knowledge, a deconstructionist historian who would make his father proud. He believes he has buried the past long ago within the walls of the theater where his parents met, but his own rhetoric would advise him to be not so complacent or fooled so naively. As a professor of history, John Woman pushes the boundaries, asking students to question all that they believe about their own personal histories first and then about history at large.

His nontraditional methods and unconventional content put him in the spotlight of the department heads and a questionable enigmatic organization called The Path. And his few relationships are complicated: a prostitute to whom he reveals his innermost thoughts, a challenging student who does not love him but will sleep with him, and a school trustee who seems to be a self-appointed guardian angel.

JOHN WOMAN poses many questions: What does it mean to be good or evil? What is power? What is accountability? What does it mean to be a man or a woman? Throughout this story about stories, these questions are asked and answered. But are they really? For example, later in the book, Mosley occasionally uses the names "John" and "CC" interchangeably. So who is John Woman? Each time Mosley sets him up to move in one direction, he throws us by sending him somewhere else and reminding us again of John’s thesis that history is unreliable.

Mosley’s writing is like good jazz, full of the unexpected. This award-winning artist gives us an original story with philosophical ponderings and a penetrating look at race, sexuality, class and education. In the end, JOHN WOMAN is about the age-old question “Who am I?” and the multitude of variables that come into play when one attempts an answer.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on September 7, 2018

John Woman
by Walter Mosley

  • Publication Date: September 4, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802128416
  • ISBN-13: 9780802128416