LOS ANGELES — Back in April, as we were wandering the L.A. neighborhood in which he was raised, Walter Mosley mentioned “Parishioner,” a novel he published as an e-book original. If you don’t know it, that’s not surprising; it was a small book, sneaked out in the months leading up to the release of the Easy Rawlins-resurrecting “Little Green.”
When I asked why he’d chosen to do it as an e-book, he gave a little shrug.
“Oh, you know,” he said. “I write so much, I write so many books I can’t publish them all in paper. So I’m doing a couple as e-books — it’s an experiment.”
Mosley follows up on “Parishioner” with a second digital experiment: a full-length work called “Odyssey,” available only as an e-book, which revolves around a human resources executive named Sovereign James who wakes up one morning with a case of hysterical blindness; there is no physical cause.
Taking place in Manhattan, it is one of Mosley’s conceptual books, not unlike “The Man in My Basement,” in which the narrative is more or less a frame through which to investigate political or philosophical themes. Sovereign must navigate, by feel, the lobby of the Upper East Side apartment building where his psychiatrist, Dr. Offeran, has his office.
“Take eight or nine steps forward,” the doorman tells him, “and you’ll come to a wall. From there you turn left and keep on going.” In that simple interaction, Mosley establishes Sovereign’s blindness from the inside, drawing us into his experience, allowing us to empathize, to share in his passage through the world.
Empathy, as it turns out, is a key factor in the novel; this is what blindness has bestowed. An African American, Sovereign has been accused of racism — not against white applicants but against blacks, whom he holds to a higher standard as part of a one-man insurrection against the corporate culture of which he is a part.
Still, despite some unlikely turns of plot, the book is largely effective as a series of dialogues. Sometimes these dialogues are between Sovereign and others and sometimes they are conversations with himself, but either way, they involve a man forced by circumstance to look inward, and not so sure any longer what he thinks.