Fortunate Son is Walter Mosley’s parable of color and class in America, exemplified by two boys, one black, one white, who live together for a few years as children, and consider themselves to be brothers.
Tommy is the black brother, who was born with a hole in his lung, which curses his health and strength his entire life. He spends his first 6 months of life in the hospital, visited every day by his devoted single mother, who comes to see him as soon as she gets off of work.
Eric is the same age as Tommy, and is born in the same hospital. He is described over and over again as an Adonis, god-like in his golden good looks, strong and mighty and self centered. Eric’s mother dies in childbirth, and his father is a surgeon who sees Tommy’s mother every day as she visits her baby and tries to help him gain strength.
Eventually, they fall in love, and Tommy and his mother, Branwyn, move in with Eric and his father, Dr. Nolan, and life is happy for them for awhile, though the parents never marry, due to Branwyn’s hidden passion for Tommy’s father, a no-good who dumped her soon after finding out she was pregnant. The boys consider themselves to be brothers, and are very close. Then Branwyn comes down with a severe flu, and dies. Tommy’s father comes and takes him from his comfortable Beverly Hills household, down to the mean streets of Los Angeles.
Tommy is a sensitive child, one who cannot stand harsh lights or loud noises, a sweet boy with a heart of gold. Life is very difficult for Tommy, and he rises to the challenges put before him to the best of his ability. But things get worse and worse for him.
Eric is big and strong, girls want to be with him, boys envy him, and everything comes very easily to him. He seems to have life handed to him on a silver platter. His only problem is that he feels cursed…he killed his mother by being born, he killed Branwyn by giving her the flu, and his father becomes more and more distant as the years go by.
Eventually, life brings Tommy and Eric back together in an unlikely way, and they are both relieved and happy, and determined to not be separated again.
I don’t know…the bad things that happened to Tommy were so bad, and the world was SO easy for Eric, it reminded me at one point of that SNL skit where Eddie Murphey goes undercover as white, and people laugh and hand him cash. For example, when Eric’s girlfriend is pregnant, and they’re living in student housing at UCLA. He is, of course, chosen for an experiment where they give amazingly fancy apartments to students. And then, some kind-hearted person in Student Housing discovers that Eric is now an independent minor, not being supported by his father, and Financial Aid takes care of everything, all tuition, all housing, plus a stipend. Believe me, I was a white student in the California State system, and no one ever did anything like that for me. Of course, I wasn’t Eric the Golden Boy.
Golden Boy didn’t turn out to be a jerk or anything. He was a decent guy with a hole in his life. Tommy’s misadventures didn’t make him jaded or hard. He kept his sweet temperament and optimism, against all odds. The allegory is so obvious and strained that it was sometimes ridiculous. I was sucked in, however, and was able to finish the book, though I didn’t think it was anywhere close to the quality of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries.
I read Fortunate Son for my TBR Challenge, but I couldn’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone else.