Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel

Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel

by Walter Mosley

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Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected -- and most popular -- of its kind. Lending a fresh perspective to a perennial favorite, Walter Mosley has chosen unforgettable short stories by both renowned writers and exciting newcomers. The Best American Short Stories 2003 features poignant tales that explore the nuances of family life and love, birth and death. Here are stories that will, as Mosley writes in his introduction, "live with the reader long after the words have been translated into ideas and dreams. That's because a good short story crosses the borders of our nations and our prejudices and our beliefs."

These Twenty Short Stories Boldly and insightfully explore the extremes of human emotions. In her story "Night Talkers," Edwidge Danticat reunites a young man and the elderly aunt who raised him in Haiti. Anthony Doerr brings readers a naturalist who discovers the surprising healing powers of a deadly cone snail. Louise Erdrich writes of an Ojibwa fiddler whose music brings him deep and mysterious joy. Here are diverse and intriguing characters -- a kidnapper, an immigrant nanny, an amputee blues musician -- who are as surprised as the reader is at what brings them happiness. In his introduction, Walter Mosley explores the definition of a good short story, and writes, "The writers represented in this collection have told stories that suggest much larger ideas. I found myself presented with the challenge of simple human love contrasted against structures as large as religion and death. The desire to be loved or to be seen, represented on a canvas so broad that it would take years to explain all the roots that bring us to the resolution." Each of these stories bravely evokes worlds brimming with desire and loss, humanity and possibility.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781596918603
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 12/02/2008
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 506,718
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Walter Mosley is one of the most versatile and admired writers in America today. He is the author of more than 25 critically acclaimed books, including the major bestselling mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins. His work has been translated into 21 languages and includes literary fiction, science fiction, political monographs, and a young adult novel. His short fiction has been widely published, and his nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times magazine and the Nation, among other publications. He is the winner of numerous awards, including an O'Henry Award, a Grammy award, and the PEN American Center's Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in New York City.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

January 12, 1952

Place of Birth:

Los Angeles, California


B.A., Johnson State College

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Americans Dreaming

Whenever anyone asks my opinion about the difference between novels and
short stories, I tell them that there is no distinction between the genres. They
are essentially the same thing, I always reply.

How can you say that? the fiction lover asks. Stories are small
gems, perfectly cut to expose every facet of an idea, which is in turn
illuminated by ten thousand tiny shafts of light.
But I hold my ground, answering the metaphor with a simile. A
novel, I say, is like a mountain — superior, vast, and immense. Its apex is in
the clouds and it appears to us as a higher being — a divinity. Mountains
loom and challenge; they contain myriad life forms and cannot be seen by
anyone attempting the climb. Mountains can be understood only by years of
negotiating their trails and sheer faces. They contain a wide variety of
atmospheres and are complex and immortal.
You cannot approach a mountain unless you are completely
prepared for the challenge. In much the same way, you can't begin to read
(or write) a novel without attempting to embrace a life much larger than the
range of any singular human experience.
Thinking in this way, I understand the mountain and the novel to
be impossible in everyday human terms. Both emerge from a distance that
can be approached only by faith. And when you get there, all you find is
yourself. The beauty or terror you experience is your understanding of how far
you've come, your being stretched further than is humanly possible.
The fiction lover agrees. She says, Yes, of course. The novel is a
large thing. The novelstands against the backdrop of human existence just
as mountains dominate the landscape. But stories are simple things, small
aspects of human foibles and quirks. A story can be held in a glance or a half-
remembered dream.
It's a good argument, and I wouldn't refute it. But I will say that if
novels are mountains, then stories are far-flung islands that one comes upon
in the limitless horizon of the sea. Not big islands like Hawaii, but small,
craggy atolls inhabited by eclectic and nomadic life forms that found their
way there in spite of tremendous odds. One of these small islets can be fully
explored in a few hours. There's a grotto, a sandy beach, a new species of
wolf spider, and maybe the remnants of an ancient culture that came here
and moved on or, possibly, just died out.
These geologic comparisons would seem to support the fiction
reader's claim that novels and short stories are different categories, distant
cousins in the linguistic universe. But where did those wolf spiders come
from? And who were the people who came here and died? And why, when I
walk around this footprint of land, do I feel that something new arises with
each day? I eat fish that live in the caves below the waves. I see dark
shadows down there. I dream of the firmament that lies below the ocean, the
mountain that holds up that small span of land.
I cannot climb the mountain that sits in the sea, but from where I
stand it comes to me in detritus and dreams.
Short story writers must be confident of that suboceanic mountain
in order to place their tale in the world. After all, fiction mostly resides in the
imagination of the reader. All the writer can do is hint at a world that calls
forth the dream, telling the story that exhorts us to call the possibility into
The writers represented in this collection have told stories that
suggest much larger ideas. I found myself presented with the challenge of
simple human love contrasted against structures as large as religion and
death. The desire to be loved or to be seen, represented on a canvas so
broad that it would take years to explain all the roots that bring us to the
In many of the stories we find exiles, people who have lost their
loved ones, their homelands, their way. These stories are simple and
exquisite, but they aren't merely tales of personal loss. Mothers have left us
long before the mountains were shifted by southward-moving ice floes. Men
have been broken by their dreams for almost as long as the continents have
been drifting. And every day someone opens her eyes and sees a world that
she never expected could be there.
These short stories are vast structures existing mostly in the
subconscious of our cultural history. They will live with the reader long after
the words have been translated into ideas and dreams. That's because a
good short story crosses the borders of our nations and our prejudices and
our beliefs. A good short story asks a question that can't be answered in
simple terms. And even if we come up with some understanding, years later,
while glancing out of a window, the story still has the potential to return, to
alter right there in our mind and change everything.

—Walter Mosley

Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Introduction copyright ©
2003 by Walter Mosley. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin

Table of Contents

Introduction: Americans Dreamingxiii
Rationing (from Missouri Review)1
Mines (from Zoetrope)16
Coins (from Harper's Magazine)28
Heaven Lake (from The Harvard Review)38
Kavita Through Glass (from Tin House)51
Ghost Knife (from Ploughshares)62
Marie-Ange's Ginen (from Callaloo)80
Moriya (from Ontario Review)91
Every Tongue Shall Confess (from Ploughshares)113
Future Emergencies (from Esquire)128
Devotion (from The Yale Review)140
Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down (from Tin House)155
Shamengwa (from The New Yorker)173
The Shell Collector (from The Chicago Review)189
Baby Wilson (from The New Yorker)214
Night Talkers (from Callaloo)233
Johnny Hamburger (from Esquire)253
The Bees (from McSweeney's)268
Space (from The Georgia Review)286
Compassion (from Tin House)297
Contributors' Notes327
100 Other Distinguished Stories of 2002341
Editorial Addresses of American and Canadian Magazines Publishing Short Stories345

Customer Reviews

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Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a suggested read by a friend who told me an aged and mature librarian suggested this to her. Needless to say, I was intent on reading this book in two days... It turned out to be a one night stand. I could NOT put it down. The writing was extremely clever and quick. The experiences had by the narrator were extremely sexual, vivid, and powerful. Surprisingly, the author was never, and I mean NEVER vulgar. I guess when you are such a master of language as Walter Mosley is, that form of baseness is so primary. Excellent and would highly recommend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is erotic without being lewd, and the central plot stays alive and riveting throughout. The reader gets to ride along with L as he goes from 'dead' to alive. Recently, I went to see Walter Mosley speak, carrying my copy along with me. He signed my book and commented, 'You enjoy that, now.' I already had.
ssgbutlerec More than 1 year ago
I have always been amazed by the prowess of Walter Mosley, and this title almost floored me with its directness. Anyone who is familiar with Mosley's ability to describe sexual encounters in previous titles, will not be to surprised by his vivid description of sexual acts. But by their frequency. I'm not a big Zane reader, but I'm sure that these are the waters that this novel threads. At least there is a pretty solid tension and expectation that builds up as we wait to see how our betrayed hero is going to deal with his lover's infidelity. He knows and she doesn't. And the dynamic between them is handled very well. Overall the book is good, it's just the over the top excursion that take place in the world of erotica that threw me off. But if you are a Zane reader, i would have to guess that reading this will introduce you to a much more effective writer. I think that's what Mosley wants us to see with this book. He can do what others do, just better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book that comes along every once in a while. This man looses himself and then finds himself and keeps you drawn to the pages along this journey. So glad I read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, it captures you from page 8 and you CAN'T put it down! Do youself a favor, dont read it on the train as a male, like I did, otherwise you will do plenty of crotch adjusting! Mosley's use of provocative pleasing prose in an erotic book that is not sub-standard is a thing of perfection! You can thank me later...
krissie42 More than 1 year ago
A page turner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am definitely a Walter Mosley fan and have read most of his books. I enjoyed reading his last 4 or 5 five novels, all good stories and fast reads. And this one is no exception. It is provactive, raw, and to me an inspiring journey in one man's awakening and not too far fetched from reality...or fantasy I could imagine. A pager turner and enjoyable read from beginning to end. I can't wait for his next book,hopefully a continuation of this genre and series of characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I saw Walter Mosley had written a new book, I purchased it on the spot since I always purchase books by my favorite authors (Mosley is one of them). I found this book to be in a different direction for Mosley. Judging by the title, I thought it was going to be a murder mystery, but I must say that I was quite surprised (although not disappointed) when I was more than half way through the book that Johnny Fry was still alive. However, Johnny's death actually took a back seat to what Cordell was going through. Some of us can relate to Cordell's pain and some of us can relate to the things he did (or wish we could do some of the things he did!). This was a very interesting novel (sexistentially so) and was a very eye-opening read. Keep up the good work, Walter!
Guest More than 1 year ago
who knew that walter mosley could go down that road and make you want to go along for the ride... i'm impressed - xoxo, a faithful fan
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a huge fan of Walter Mosley, following him move through many genres over the years. So, when I received the e-mail announcing this novel, I knew that I would read it, but was sure that I would hate it. I didn't hate it at all. Sure, the sex is graphic, but its the transformation that occurs in L that should be the focus. His travels take him from a 'normal life' to a road paved in lust, rage and a hundred other real emotions. There a very great story in there, if you can get pass the sweat and semen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a huge fan of WM. This was a good book but not a great book. I would recommend it if you are familiar with his writings but not to a person who isn't. This is not his best work to me but a page turner none-the-less.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Killing Johnny Fry was my first Mosely read. I enjoyed the idea that he wrote such realistic fiction. I found the idea of the 'underground' sex societies was very interesting. The storyline was very interesting and the characters were fun too. I enjoy the way these characters grabbed desires by the horns and went with it. And I thought....Now that's really living!
chorn369 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cordell inadvertently walks in on his long-time lover having very rough sex in her Central Park West apartment. Instead of confronting them, he watches for a few minutes, leaves, then begins plotting to kill his rival. While doing so, he abruptly quits his job, starts a new a career (sort of) and takes several new lovers, and has rough sex with all of them.This book reminds me of the scene in Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Faclon," where Sam Spade tells a story about a man who was narrowly missed being smashed to death by a falling piece of iron from a construction site while walking to work. "It was if someone had pulled a lid off his life and shown him the works," Spade says (paraphrase). The man disappears, his wife hires Spade to find him, and he eventually does, living almost a carbon copy of the life he left behind.Mosley, however, will have none of that. His character Cordell does change--into an erotic stallion who seems to have the ability to bed any woman he wants, while at the same time re-directing a rather boring and aimless life.
pharrm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A serious look at sex from a man's perspective
probably on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was sort of light and sort of not. I think I may have read the author's detective series a long time ago. It could have been better edited, I think - the sex scenes sort of ended up with descriptions that were repeated from earlier ones.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As usual Excellence! Walter Mosley's brilliant mind keeps me coming back for more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book, and I've read it several times over the years.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book. Funny, sad, steammy and entertaining all in one.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't think I've ever read a worse book in my life. The only reason I finished it was to find out about Johnny. What a complete waste of money! My first and last Walter Mosley book. If there was a way to return a Nook book, I would.
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