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Walter Mosley
Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore
Doubleday / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-385-52618-0
Publication Date: 05-13-2014
272 Pages; $26.95

Date Reviewed: 09-18-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index Mystery, General Fiction  

The simplicity of the images in powerful optical illusions belies the underlying implications. One second we're seeing a vase; the next, we see two faces in profile. We'd like to think that those visionary flips are restricted to the realm of childish magic tricks. It's not possible to have our understanding of our own lives inverted, until it happens.

For Debbie Dare the powerful protagonist of Walter Mosley's new novel 'Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore,' the flip happens during a shoot for her latest porn movie. One moment she is "in the life." And the next moment, she's out. That proves to be the easiest part of her journey. Hopping off that track proves to be far more complicated, and (against my expectations) is an engrossing, compelling reading experience. Mosley flattens the affect of his character's perception with masterful prose, turning what might be transgressive overkill into emotional engagement.

After the opening scene, the novel lives up to its title; Debbie Dare, aka Sandy Peel, stops having sex, though she does recall a few scenes in memory. But getting out of the business proves to be quite difficult, as she returns home find her husband, Theon Pinkney, dead in his hot tub. He may be deceased, but he's one of the main and most entertaining characters you'll find here. Mosley manages to tread a very fine line in 'Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore,' mixing bits of humor and crime fiction to craft a tense plot around the actions of a woman who is in the throes of a profoundly spiritual sea change.

The prose makes all this possible. The novel is written with a flat affect, and readers will feel as if they're seeing this world for the first time. Debbie sees everything equally, including her dead-ex. But it's not as if there's a fantasy element to the novel. The prose, crisp and to-the-point, makes all that clear. There's a revelatory feel, without the elaborate overstatement. At one point these's even a quite powerful sermon; bu8t in every sense, the book is under-written, giving it the punch of someone who is seeing the possibilities in their life for the first time.

The characters we meet make this book both real, and quite a bit of fun. Porn stars, henchmen, criminals, Debbie's (Sandy's) family, and even a set of distressingly oblivious parents, are all effectively energized by Debbie's (Mosley's) prose gaze. There are quite a few characters here that you're going to love and remember; Theon, Jude, Coco Manetti. Mosley manages to wrangle a large cast with serious ease in a small book. Only afterwards might you think of just how difficult it might be.

From the opening scene, the plot is set, but Mosley easily complicates it by virtue of Debbie's and Theon's professions and pasts. They all catch up with Debbie, but her thousand-yard stare makes her much tougher than anyone might at first surmise. But tracking the action on the outside is the Debbie 's equally intense interior journey. By divorcing sentiment from spirituality, Mosley gives both greater power.

Obviously, this is not a book for every reader; but not so obviously, it is a book that can be deeply enjoyed by a much larger audience than the subject matter might suggest. It is, in many ways, the quintessential American story, about an individual who rejects their lifeline and jumps track to something new and unexpected. That makes the book itself new and unexpected. You think you are seeing one sort of book; with the flick of an eye, you're seeing another. Life can be like that. Sometimes, change is for the better.

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