The Messenger is the autobiographical first-person narrative of Charlie, a lonely man. The novel is episodic. Each of its forty short, loosely connected chapters recalls an incident from Charlie’s past or describes in graphic detail his current situation as a promising writer who makes a meager living as a messenger for Wall Street brokers. In a style that is at times spare and reportorial, and at other times highly lyrical and expressionistic, Charles Wright portrays this young man’s slide toward an increasing sense of hopelessness and despair in the segregated borough of Manhattan in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. “I grow old in the terrible heart of America,” Charlie writes. “I am dying the American-money death.”
A number of chapters are devoted to memories of Charlie’s childhood in Sedalia, a small Missouri town where he was cared for, primarily, by his maternal grandmother. Other chapters are devoted to memories of his quest for greater experiences in the big cities of the Midwest and California, and to memories of his visit to his hometown in 1958, the year his maternal grandmother died. The majority of the novel, however, is devoted to Charlie’s descriptions of his travels through the underbelly of Manhattan, where he encounters gay men, drug addicts, transvestites, prostitutes, and con artists.
Many of the New York City chapters present accounts of Charlie’s often-humiliating experiences of cruising bars and Wall Street offices trying to find his own sexual pleasure with men or women, or to offer sex in exchange for money to supplement his meager income. His day job as a messenger allows him entrance into worlds from which his skin color might otherwise exclude him. His “tricks” include a wealthy white woman who takes Charlie back to her home in Long Island, a male Wall...
(The entire section is 752 words.)