We Cast A Shadow

Maurice Carlos Ruffin. One World, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-50906-6
Ruffin’s brilliant, semisatirical debut stars an unnamed narrator who’s all but consumed by his blackness. Forced to become the “committed to diversity” face of his law firm and the pawn of an insidious ad campaign headed by powerful, flirtatious shareholder Octavia Whitmore, the narrator suffers through one indignity after another. He endures a routinely racist police stop and learns that Octavia “fantasized about wearing blackface” and then there’s the historical revisionism at the school his mixed-race teenage son Nigel attends, where teachers insist that “every schoolboy knows the Civil War didn’t start because of slavery.” The narrator only wants Nigel to be spared the dread of being young and black in America. In fact, he’s been forcing Nigel to apply skin-lightening cream over the objections of his wife, Penny, and is planning to submit Nigel to an experimental plastic surgery procedure that he hopes will visibly erase his heritage and break the long chain of prisons, prejudice, and limited career options that characterize the narrator’s own forebears (his father is incarcerated, a fact that brings the narrator nothing but shame). And yet this is only the setup for a story that suddenly incorporates the violent interventions of a militarized cell of protesters, and hastens the narrator, Nigel, Penny, and Octavia toward a set of separate fates that are both harrowing and inevitable. Though Ruffin’s novel is in the vein of satires like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and the film Get Out, it is more bracingly realistic in rendering the divisive policies of contemporary America, making for a singular and unforgettable work of political art. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/2018
Release date: 01/29/2019
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