*”Guilty or not we all servin’ time in this life, Socco,” the big man would say. “Ain’t no reason for you to punish yourself ’cause you know there’s plenty’a people waitin’ in line to get in their licks.”*
“The Right Mistake” is a novel written by Walter Mosley. It is raw, powerful, and emotionally rich. The book follows the story of ex-convict Socrates Fortlow in his attempt to make peace with his guilt and violent actions while at the same time bringing about social change. Much like the Socrates of Ancient Greece, Mosley’s Socrates is a leader and teacher of people. But while the Greek spoke with scholars, the American speaks with vagabonds, prostitutes, murderers, and other people that society generally looks down on and pities or ignores.
The book begins with a small group of men gossiping about the current marital status of a friend of theirs over a game of dominoes. The loss of the man’s house to his estranged wife draws Socrates’s attention, and it is not long before Socrates goes looking for the man in question and tries to do something about the issue at hand. And so, The Big Nickel, the location for Socrates’s Thinker’s Club, is born.
Throughout the book, questions are constantly being raised. These questions deal with race, the wealth gap, violence, justice, and many other social issues. The questions asked are questions that could be asked by any reader, and by answering them through Socrates, Mosley manages to reach out from behind the pages and draw the reader into a world they may or may not be familiar with: the world of deep and grave social injustice, a world where even just walking out the door could mean getting shot at.
Sure, we all already live in this world, but it is hard to see the things you don’t really want to see. By pretending that it is far away, by pretending it does not exist, we like to believe that it never was there…that it never will be there. The Thinker’s Club is not the first or only one of its kind, but does that really matter? The members bring to conversation things that everyone notices, but nobody really remarks upon. Socrates manages to create a space safe enough for all to speak freely. Of course, it helps that Mosley’s description of him matches that of stereotypical depictions of ex-convicts: big, muscular, able to break a man with their bare hands.
“The Right Mistake” is being shelved on my bookcase as a reminder to keep my eyes open. It is a window into a world I’ve never known personally, and chancing upon this book was no mistake at all.
Listening Suggestion: Run On by Moby
Why? The lyrics of this song seem to speak to me about some of the themes and ideas mentioned in Mosley’s book. It also reflects some of Socrates’s past. The slightly watered down leading vocals, paired with the hum of background vocals, creates a sound similar to the whistle of a train in the distance. I find it to be a rather interesting concept, one that is tied to the overall message and title of the song.
*Quote taken from Walter Mosley’s “The Right Mistake”.