The Awkward Black Man

The Awkward Black Man by Walter Mosley (2020) is a terribly fatphobic book of seventeen short stories.

I had a bad feeling when the first line of the first story “The Good News Is” ended with “after a lifetime of carrying an extra thirty pounds or more, I was finally losing weight.” While some of the stories were entertaining, I cannot recommend this book because there were fatphobic descriptions or tropes in nearly every story. I was disconcerted and felt let down when I read the first line, because I have loved every other Walter Mosley book I’ve read. I may have read a half dozen of his over fifty books of fiction and nonfiction, and I don’t recall objecting to them because of his portrayals of fat people.

Occasionally, his descriptions were neutral, especially when describing women: a “roundish” woman; a “plump” schoolteacher; or a “youngish, round white woman.” But in most of the stories, the main character was a man unhappy with his weight, and Mosley describes the character’s size it in terms of how much weight he “should” lose or how unhealthy he is. I refuse to repeat the descriptions as there were so many of them.

I did enjoy some of the stories; only three were free of any fatphobia or diet culture. In “Almost Alyce,” which spans years, lost love sends the main character into what he called “his roustabout years” where he drifts and lives on the street. In “Between Storms,” a man’s life goes awry when he refuses to leave his apartment. “Otis,” about two boys who meet once but have a connection that lasts a lifetime, was a beautiful portrayal of a neurodivergent boy.

The jacket describes the heroes in the stories as “awkward, nerdy, self-defeating, self-involved, and, on the whole, odd.” I’m disappointed that Mosley relies on a depiction of the heroes as fat, in many cases, as a part of what makes them odd and awkward. It makes me wonder what his inner critic tells him.

I will give him one more chance, as I recently put his 2018 novel John Woman into my Audible library, and I have historically really enjoyed everything he’s written. But that may be all he gets. Life is too short to read fatphobic books.

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