Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead: A Triptych of Noir

Man, Colson Whitehead is cool. And his novel Harlem Shuffle (out today!) is cool, too. It's a return to fiction that must've been much more fun for him to write than his previous two hugely important, vital, Pulitzer-prize winning novels (The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys) about dead serious topics of racism, death, slavery, and injustice. 

Harlem Shuffle is like a triptych of noir — three different sections, each with the same characters (except for the ones that get rubbed out, naturally), involve three different schemes: a heist, sweet revenge, and then lastly, just sort of cleaning up loose ends. 

Our hero is Ray Carney, an ordinary furniture store owner in 1960s Harlem, who like just about everyone, has a few less-than-legal side hustles going on. As Ray strives to the straight and narrow, to move his family to a nicer apartment, to live the American dream, he keeps getting sidetracked. In each of the three "scenes," his connections to the seedy underside of Harlem (his cousin Freddie, his long-dead father who was about the life, Ray's own business associates) always seem to draw him back in. 

I read this in basically two sittings — not because it's laced with unputdownable suspense, exactly. I don't know, there's just something about the way Whitehead writes that's super engrossing. I don't go in for much crime fiction, but of course if Colson Whitehead is writing it, I'm in. This book probably won't change your life, but it's still a great read. What, you're not going read the new Colson Whitehead? Of course you are. I think you'll have fun with this one, too. 

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