Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead; Doubleday, 2021. 318 pages; $28.95 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

Through fast-moving scenes that careen from humorous to tenderhearted Whitehead deftly juggles a host of themes here: racism (both inside and outside the black community), family ties, getting ahead in a hostile environment, and changeboth particular (the forced uprooting of black communities) and general (progress and the passing of time). Our hero is used-furniture-store-owner Ray Carney (very black-skinned, ambitious, not crooked but slightly bent) and the setting is Harlem at three key points in time: 1959, 1961, and 1964. Civil rights riots are a background obstacle to be surmounted as Raystriving to move his wife and two children into a better apartmentbecomes enmeshed in the dangerous schemes of his cousin Freddie, negotiates the movement of envelopes [bribes] that keeps the city running,and employs his gift for assessing and selling used furniture (some ill-gotten, some not). Readers along for the ride begin to wonder whether the dead body that lands in Rays showroom, the framing of a man who took an envelope and didnt do his job,and the bloody rescue of his cousin from a swanky Park Avenue high rise are any more alarming than the more genteel crimes to which Ray is subjected on a daily basis. The conclusion is as positive as the plot will allow. Ray has survived, moved up in life, and walks almost blithely into a future filled with circumstances that are as daunting as ever. Colson has achieved a rare feat here: He has crafted an engaging and meticulously-researched tale that offers a sympathetic glimpse into what will be, for many readers, completely foreign moral territory.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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