John Woman: A
by Walter Mosley
c.2018, Atlantic Monthly Press
$26.00 / $38.95 Canada
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Truth Contributor
Clothes, as they say, make the man.
So do his language and demeanor – but what else? Did his
parents or teachers make him who he is? Is it income, peer
pressure, the movies he sees, jobs he holds, or his favorite
music? Or, as in the new novel John Woman by
Walter Mosley, is a man made purely of his actions –
Cornelius “CC” Jones had always adored his mother.
Some of his best memories were of having tea with her in her
apartment, listening to her blithely reminisce about past
loves, kisses and passion, and the night she was almost
killed but instead met CC’s father.
Those memories framed one side of CC’s childhood, and his
father framed the other side. Herman Jones was a slave in
Mississippi before he taught himself to read. He had a great
love of books and philosophy, and he demanded much from his
son: CC learned to speak correctly, to think widely, and to
love history. He became a respected, responsible boy who
quietly assumed his father’s job when Herman fell ill.
It was a job that saved them both, in many ways, but it
wasn’t to last. When Herman died and CC’s mother vanished,
CC left New York, attended college under an assumed name,
and then reinvented himself again as John Woman, professor
at New University of the Southwest in Arizona. There,
because of his brilliant hypotheses and his cutting-edge
deconstructionist history classes, students flocked to his
But not everyone loved John Woman.
John Woman never fit in, nor did he try. Several of his
colleagues wanted him gone from the NUSA, though others were
highly intrigued by the way his mind worked. A
barely-transparent “cult” of elites that ran the University
had their eye on Woman because they recognized his extreme
genius. And then there was the NYPD, which was looking for
John Woman for a murder they were sure he’d committed….
The very first thing you need to know is that John Woman
is absolutely not an easy book to read.
In many ways, fans of author Walter Mosley will know this:
Mosley likes to create unique situations, deep philosophers,
and thinkers, and in this book, he’s totally accomplished
that. There’s a weird super-educated “cult,” for example,
that serpentines through the plotline, but it’s a
largely-unexplained tease. More prominently, the title
character here is so deep in his ideas that what he says is
sometimes indecipherable but it’ll still tickle your mind
until well, well into the book. At that point, the sheer
brilliance of it all becomes clear, as does his next step -
and yours, for that matter, as this book’s meaning lingers
and your mind is blown.
Needless to say, despite the drama and bedroom scenes
within, this book isn’t a fluff-bit that you can set down at
a whim. This novel is going to force you to think, as well
as gasp, smile, and chuckle. If you’re ready for a
10-ton-heavy novel, John Woman will make you very