REVIEWED: Diablerie

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Diablerie by Walter Mosley. (Pyschological Novel, 2008).

Walter Mosley is one highly varied and ambitious author. In this relatively brief (180-page) novel he delivers a stunning psychological portrait of a deeply repressed man who must escape the inertia that has defined his life for decades, while facing-up to a past (and a brutal crime) obscured from him by both alcoholic blackouts and his own unconscious need to deny it all.

For 20-plus years (since getting off booze and moving to the East Coast) Ben Dibbuck has been almost sleepwalking through life–doing an intensely dull computer job, married to a wife he feels no passion for, with a daughter who he feels responsible for but takes no joy in being around. Somehow he’s blundered into a somewhat kinky longtime affair with a Russian girl who attends college in New York. She and his one friend at work (a former soldier who handles security at the bank Ben works at) are the only people able to get any sort of rise out of this perpetually numb individual.

Then, out of nowhere, he’s confronted by an angry/frightened woman who claims to know him from his drunken/blacked-out days in Colorado. This woman is famous for having been falsely accused of terrible crimes when she was in fact the true criminal’s captive. Now she hints that Ben was behind an earlier, unspeakable act of violence that she witnessed. The magazine his wife works for was originally planning to feature her life story–but now?

Having run into Ben, she’s turned the focus of her article onto him. And she’s called in Denver’s Assistant DA, intent on charging him with a crime he can’t recall.

Ben, a man so emotionally short-circuited that he can barely summon anger upon discovering that his wife is having an affair with a guy at the magazine (not to mention that said wife is actually helping his accuser on the damning article), would seem an unpromising lead character. This might prove doubly in a book told in first-person, by a not particularly admirable cipher of a man. Yet Mosley’s skill is on full display here–he gets you to understand and even begrudgingly sympathize with Ben and his struggle to grow beyond the combination of tepid inertness and cold denial he’s trapped in.

A flawed man’s evolution toward full understanding and acceptance of himself–that’s in the end what this book is about. There’s some rough, even nasty violence here. Explicit sex, multiple betrayals (of which Ben realizes he is as much a betrayer as one betrayed), frequent all-too-real examples of people misunderstanding and hurting each other. All these figure into this sharp, ambiguous portrait of a conflicted man and those around him.

It’s hard to pigeonhole this book. It’s certainly possessed of a noir sensibility and crimes (of the heart and otherwise) are absolutely involved. It has erotic aspects, to be sure. And of course, it’s an examination of one man’s inner mind and how his damaged soul comes back to some sort of life after too long in self-imposed limbo.

Not the most pleasant or ‘easy’ book I’ve seen from this accomplished author. But a damn good one, for certain!

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