Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel
by Walter Mosley
Killing Johnny Fry is an older novel by Mosley that I never got around to reading. I had heard both good and bad things about it. But mostly I heard that it was very different from his usual style. So nothing if not curious I finally felt compelled to sit down and read this book during my all too rare and rapidly shrinking lunch breaks.
Different doesn't begin to describe what's going on here, though the change is still more in subject matter and tone than it is in style. Although the subject matter and language may be something new to Mosley's work, the everyman hero is certainly someone who would have fit quite easily in Mosley's other novels. Although Killing Johnny Fry is not technically pornographic if only because the primary purpose of the text is presumably not physical self-pleasure, Killing Johnny Fry is sexually explicit to the point where it could just as easily be pornography. You say toe-may-toe. I say toe-mah-toe. One might say that Killing Johnny Fry is an erotic novel of adventure. I have often noticed that people, including yours truly, and for that matter animals, often take things for granted. When I was a child my family had two dogs. The older dog would often ignore the toys we gave her until the younger dog tried to play with the toy. The older dog would bare her teeth or grab the toy and walk out of the room. Humans are similar. When someone tries to use or take something of yours without asking, you'll probably protest even if you weren't using the item. I can't steal a classic car from your garage and successfully defend myself by saying that you had not been properly maintaining the vehicle. People often feel that same possessiveness towards providers of their nookie. It doesn't matter if said nookie wasn't very good or the provider was unskilled or indifferent.
Cordell Carnel is a pudgy phlegmatic middle aged African-American New York City translator who works for various art agents and publishing houses. He's coasting through life. Cordell's girlfriend is also Black. Her name is Joelle. The couple lives apart. Joelle frequently makes it clear that she doesn't want to see Cordell every day. Cordell accepts this. One day he goes to visit Joelle and finds that she's left her apartment door open. Worried he enters the apartment but discovers Joelle (insert euphemism for having sweaty nasty enthusiastic sex) with the very Caucasian Johnny Fry (someone whom Cordell and Joelle met at a party). Johnny and Joelle are doing things that Joelle has never even mentioned to, let alone done with Cordell. The lovers are far too enthralled with each other to notice Cordell. Cordell quickly leaves and doesn't tell Joelle that he saw her.
However the revelation has touched something deep in Cordell. Obviously he immediately starts thinking of ways to murder Johnny Fry (thus the title of the book) but he also re-examines his life and sexual desires, failings and kinks. His hurt, anger, and confusion coalesce into a spinning mandala of lust and re-invention. Cordell also starts to have a LOT more sex with Joelle and other women. His increased desire for Joelle is balanced by his disgust for her. Cordell believes that he's been living life too meekly and too safely. Cordell drops some weight and embarks on an odyssey during which he engages in some truly bizarre activities. Women are usually impressed, excited, and occasionally a little frightened by Cordell's newly revealed capacities. I thought some portions of the story became ridiculous near the end. It is fascinating how the process by which we were all created can be described and experienced so completely differently by men and women. This book is not written like romance novels or 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight. The descriptions are blunt and male. There is humor and philosophy within this story. Cordell is looking for purpose in life, in part by enjoying or enduring sex with many different women. But he's also trying to ascertain what it means to be a healthy individual. Is anyone really healthy? What does love mean? Does it always require possessiveness? What is psychologically pleasing sex? How do men deal with emotional pain? Why do we have sex even if we have no desire or capacity to reproduce? Why do we so often want one person to the exclusion of all others when the world is packed with suitable partners?
This was an okay albeit graphic story but going forward I think I'll stick with the adventures of Easy Rawlins or Leonid McGill. That might be unfair to Mosley but Killing Johnny Fry was a serious shock to my expectations. If you're looking for something different from Mosley this story is for you. This is a very honest raw book.