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Killing Johnny Fry [Hardcover]

Walter Mosley
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 30 2006
This bold new novel from Walter Mosley startles in both its rawness and its honest portrayal of a man on a quest for sexual redemption in midlife. When Cordell Carmel catches his longtime girlfriend with another man, the act that he witnesses seems to dissolve all the boundaries he knows. In that instant, the calm existence of this middle-aged New York City man becomes something unrecognizable: he wants revenge, but also something more. Killing Johnny Fry is the story of Cordell's dark, funny, soulful, and outrageously explicit sexual odyssey in search of a new way of life. His guide is a mysterious woman named Sisypha, who leads him deep into the erotic heart of the city.
 
Killing Johnny Fry marks new territory for Walter Mosley, bestselling author of Devil in a Blue Dress and many other books in different genres: sci-fi, politics, literary fiction. It will surprise, provoke, inspire, and make you blush. Above all, it is about a man questioning the rules we take for granted--and the powerful and sometimes disturbing connections that occur between people when these rules are removed.

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From Publishers Weekly

Mosley returns from the vastly underrated Fortunate Son and from Fear of the Dark with a piece of what one might call "deep erotica": there's plenty of sex, and also plenty of motivation for it within protagonist Cordel Carmel's travails and ruminations, as far-fetched as they can get. After a charged-but-chaste lunch with young Lucy Carmichael (a blonde in her early 20s looking to be introduced to Cordel's art agent friend), Cordel, 45, walks in on Joelle (his longtime, non-live-in girlfriend): Joelle's being very consensually sodomized by a white man wearing a red condom, their (very well-endowed) mutual acquaintance, Johnny Fry. Cordel walks out quietly, without being seen. In short order, Cordel buys a porno video and gets enraptured with its sadist star, Sisypha; quits his freelance-translation gig; has conflicted, amazing sex with Joelle (who continues to lie to him); has unconflicted, amazing sex with Lucy (who seems very nice) and with voluptuous neighbor Sasha Bennett (who seems way crazy); meets Sisypha for an Eyes Wide Shut–like experience; seduces the young, ghetto Monica Wells; and finally, within the week, has his confrontation with Johnny Fry. Though it all, Cordel's thoughts on humiliation, submission, pain, family, aging and abuse manage to sustain the wisp-thin plot of this total male fantasy. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Though he's best at crime novels, Mosley has been busy reinventing himself as an all-around writer of high purpose, trying his hand, with mixed results, at literary fiction, political essay, and science fiction. Despite its noiresque title, this one represents a surprising new direction: what Mosley calls the "sexistential novel." Mild-mannered Cordell Carmel drops by his longtime girlfriend's apartment unannounced and finds her having the orgasm of her life with another man. Carmel sneaks out unseen, disturbed and aroused. Obsessed with a movie that seems to mirror his situation, he transforms from passive nice guy to sexual aggressor--and soon finds himself having the sex of his life, with a series of beautiful, adoring women. Adrift and confused, he keeps going, hoping to find himself by losing control. It's hard to know how much of Mosley's audience will want to follow him on this explicitly sexual journey. The sex scenes are compelling, but the story loses its way; it might be too much sex for some readers and too little novel for others. In a way, it contains the same contradictions as a big-budget porno movie that uses a self-important story line to lend the project an air of legitimacy, then drives home the message that our baser sexual instincts are nothing to be ashamed of. Mosley deserves kudos for his courage, but let's hope sexistentialism is a one-night stand. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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2.0 out of 5 stars Dark Sexploitation Feb. 19 2007
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Unless you feel compelled to read all of Mr. Mosley's books, I think you can feel comfortable skipping this one. There are none of the characters you've come to love. There's none of the detection that you adore. There's none of the LA ambience. It's considerably darker than The Man in My Basement. You'll want to wash your hands after reading some of the sexual scenes in this book.

As a devoted fan of Walter Mosley's work, I grabbed Killing Johnny Fry off the shelf without even reading the jacket blurb. I was about thirty pages into the book when I began to wonder, "What is this book?"

The plot seemed to me to be a virtually nonexistent story device to link together graphic descriptions of episode after episode of exploitive heterosexual relations involving pretty much every variation you can think of that only includes two people at a time. While many 13 year-old boys would probably think that's pretty great, I'm not sure how many readers want that much sexploitation in their novels.

The book's theme is the alienation of modern living and the barriers that separate us from one another. You don't have to produce a work of such extreme sexual focus to remind us that we all respond to one another sexually in more immediate ways that we do at deeper levels. Much of the book seemed gratuitous in its carnal focus.

The story is about an ordinary African-American man, Cordell Carmel, in New York who has trouble with relationships. Two marriages quickly failed. A long-time "we're committed to one another" lover, Joelle, only lets him show up on the weekends. He realizes that they are more friends than lovers. Normally, he spends his time hustling for small-time translation work. Life is on an even keel.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Dark Sexploitation Feb. 19 2007
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Unless you feel compelled to read all of Mr. Mosley's books, I think you can feel comfortable skipping this one. There are none of the characters you've come to love. There's none of the detection that you adore. There's none of the LA ambience. It's considerably darker than The Man in My Basement. You'll want to wash your hands after reading some of the sexual scenes in this book.

As a devoted fan of Walter Mosley's work, I grabbed Killing Johnny Fry off the shelf without even reading the jacket blurb. I was about thirty pages into the book when I began to wonder, "What is this book?"

The plot seemed to me to be a virtually nonexistent story device to link together graphic descriptions of episode after episode of exploitive heterosexual relations involving pretty much every variation you can think of that only includes two people at a time. While many 13 year-old boys would probably think that's pretty great, I'm not sure how many readers want that much sexploitation in their novels.

The book's theme is the alienation of modern living and the barriers that separate us from one another. You don't have to produce a work of such extreme sexual focus to remind us that we all respond to one another sexually in more immediate ways that we do at deeper levels. Much of the book seemed gratuitous in its carnal focus.

The story is about an ordinary African-American man, Cordell Carmel, in New York who has trouble with relationships. Two marriages quickly failed. A long-time "we're committed to one another" lover, Joelle, only lets him show up on the weekends. He realizes that they are more friends than lovers. Normally, he spends his time hustling for small-time translation work. Life is on an even keel.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  77 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking novel that forces us to examine our darker sides Feb. 8 2007
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Walter Mosley is a writer not afraid to push his craft in new directions. In KILLING JOHNNY FRY, he writes a first person novel containing some of the most explicit sex scenes written by an established American author since Henry Miller and Philip Roth.

Trying something new is not unusual for Mosley. He burst onto the literary scene in the early 1990s with the brilliant mystery series featuring a black Los Angeles private detective named Easy Rawlins. Mosley could have spent the next 30 years comfortably writing nothing but books about Rawlins.

But instead he did what great writers do. He has written literary novels, science fiction books and even nonfiction works about politics. He went, in other words, where his muse and considerable talent would take him without ever abandoning Rawlins. KILLING JOHNNY FRY is a harrowing, extremely well-written story that grabs you from the first page and doesn't let go.

Of course, this being America, anything this sexually explicit is bound to set off all sorts of alarms in some circles. Think of our archaic movie rating system that allows a film with the most gruesome, gratuitous violence to get an "R" rating while anything that seriously and realistically depicts human sexuality has to fear being labeled "pornographic." Yet another reason why people laugh at us in Europe.

Well, anybody who dismisses KILLING JOHNNY FRY as pornography or salacious misses not only the point of the book but deprives themselves of the pleasure of reading one of America's greatest writers. Yes, there is some frank, really frank, sex in this book, but it is not an erotic novel by any means. Mosley coined the term "sexistential noir" to describe this work. It is a good description because the book is not about sex.

Consider the first sentence: "I decided to kill Johnny Fry on a Wednesday, but it was a week before that I was given the reason." That tells us right away that those expecting cheap thrills will be disappointed; Mosley plunges us right into the midnight world of noir.

Cordell Carmel is a successful 45-year-old freelance translator living in New York City. He had one failed marriage but has been in a monogamous relationship with his girlfriend for several years. They live apart, but he spends weekends at her apartment. They are like any other successful, comfortable couple you are likely to see having brunch together on a Sunday on the upper west side of Manhattan while reading The New York Times. Life is good, if a little ordinary.

Then one day he encounters a problem familiar at one point or another to all New Yorkers: being far from home and in need of a bathroom in a city that strangely seems to pride itself on not having public toilets. So he drops by his girlfriend's apartment on a weekday when he knows she will not be there in order to use the facilities. And you can guess the rest: he finds her involved in rather vigorous relations with one Johnny Fry, a fellow they met through his agent.

The man cuckolded: a story not quite as old as Adam and Eve but right up there. Then the novel takes a startling turn. Rather than burst in on the lovers and express his rage, Cordell, called L, silently leaves the scene without being noticed. On the way home, he stops and buys a porno tape. Over the next week, he will propel himself into his own New York sex odyssey somewhat reminiscent of the tamer one Tom Cruise's character took in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

Soon this becomes a lot more serious than a revenge fling, and the story turns very dark. Interestingly enough, L learns he is something of a sexual Olympian; he's capable of incredible feats, as he explores regions of his sexuality he never knew existed, with multiple willing and extremely uninhibited women. But there is no joy in his couplings, which is why this is not an erotic book. There is no love here; the sex is not romantic, but dead and mechanical, angry and animalistic. L is a man adrift, preoccupied with death and destruction.

"I was angry at Jo and Johnny," L says at one point, "but the real source of pain for me was that I had never known how empty and unfulfilled my life was." Later, he tells us, "My emotions were like lava flowing under a fallow landscape. I was filled with rage and impotence too."

This book is a relentless portrait of a man's psychological disintegration. He loses his job, lies to his girlfriend and gets involved with drugs, a porno star and the police. He crosses over to his dark side and stays there. He discovers that he is capable not only of having a lot of mind-bending sex, but is filled with feelings of bloodlust, cruelty and perhaps the ability to kill. He steals a gun. At one point in the narrative, he starts experiencing all the physical symptoms of a stroke. But rather than racing to the emergency room, he finds relief through yet another tryst. "If the dream is strong enough, it comes true," he says, then ominously adds that "the same was true for nightmares."

Indeed. What Mosley ultimately is writing about here is fate --- that thin line that separates the ordinary life we know from something terrifying over which we have no control. If we only had left for work at our normal time, would we have been driving through that intersection at the very moment the drunk driver hit the gas? L opens the wrong door at the wrong time and the world he has known is suddenly shattered into a million pieces. L tries to reassure us, or himself, at the end of this narrative that "there's always time for redemption." But one wonders. Some doors once opened can never be slammed shut.

Walter Mosley has written a great novel here. As with all of his books, it is beautifully written. But rather than simply titillate us, Mosley makes us face the existential condition of human life and the dark side that lurks not far from our everyday world. KILLING JOHNNY FRY ultimately does what great fiction should do. It makes us think.

--- Reviewed by Tom Callahan
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Would You Do? (3.5 Stars) Feb. 14 2007
By Angelia Menchan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mr. Mosley chooses a completely different writing path in penning Killing Johnny Fry. Most noted for his mysteries, this book a startling, erotic expose' proves Mr. Mosley can write across genres.

The opening chapter finds Cordell, known as L to his friends, stumbling upon his longtime girlfriend Joelle, in the throes of passion with another man. Not just any man, but an extremely well-endowed white man. For his own reasons, L chooses not to confront them, or make his presence known. He simply backs away from the apartment, fleeing the premises. He finds himself jealous, excited, confused and instantly changed.

A force is unleashed in L that sends him on a journey of sexual exploration, beyond his imagination. He is also fueled by a desire to kill Johnny Fry, the man involved with his girlfriend. Killing Johnny Fry explores one man's transformation based upon insecurity, fear and obsession. Most interestingly, it might cause the reader to ask, "What would I do in L's position?"

Killing Johnny Fry is a dark, disturbing, thought provoking tale of male sexuality and insecurity run amuck. However, it proves without question that Walter Mosley is a master storyteller, in any genre.

Reviewed By: Angelia Menchan
APOOO BookClub
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mosley at His Best March 11 2007
By W. Marvin Dulaney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you have read some of Mosley's other novels you know that there is always an element of the erotic in them as well as experimentation across the various literary genres. Killing Johnny Fry is definitely an example of Mosley bringing to the fore both of the above and it does not disappoint you. I was surprised that he chose to write such a novel, but I liked it and read it in two sittings. He did raise a lot of issues about our dark sides, our reactions to betrayal, and what lies beneath the surface of our everyday emotional responses to betrayal, sexual encounters and our usual, mundane lives. It is a very thoughtful novel.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Cannot Be a Prude to Read This Book! Aug. 21 2009
By Vanessa Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I absolutely LOVE this novel! I'm a Walter Mosley fan all the way, and so when I picked this book up to read it, I immediately was hooked. If you read most of the bad reviews on this book, you will note it is all to do with the explicit sexual content. This book is NOT about sex, it is about insecurity and so much more. We are so conservative her in the United States, that any book of this nature is deemed pornographic. I love the fact that Mosley is so descriptive. This book is a winner.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Novel June 6 2009
By Zane - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I had been meaning to read Killing Johnny Fry for quite some time and finally was afforded the opportunity. I could not put it down. I read it while I was in Bermuda and it was the perfect read for the scenery. Walter Mosley is a master storyteller--no one can argue that--but this was a new type of offering for him. It was a study on human sexual needs and how they can sometimes become more important than everything else under the sun.

All of the characters in the book were well flushed out but the main character was fascinating. His ability to bounce from female to female to satisfy his desires can me new insight into the male psyche. The characters in the book gave credence to the fact that most of us are who we attract. I really appreciated this book. Thanks, Mr. Mosley, for doing you like only you can.
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