Cover Image: Harlem Shuffle

Harlem Shuffle

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Member Reviews

I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

A businessman in Harlem gets caught in some sketchy business.   Interesting characters and plot lines.  I would love to see this book made into a film.
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Described as a crime story which isn't my normal genre I decided to give this one a chance because it was written by the fantastic Colson Whitehead.  I've also seen comparisons to Deacon King Kong which probably set my standards too high before starting as I adored that book and the characters.  While this one was well written (not surprisingly it's by Whitehead) I didn't have any interest in the characters and what became of them.  I had a hard time following who was who.  I felt too much was being crammed into this novel about too many underlying things.  It follows RAy Carney born to a crooked father who tries to live life honestly with his furniture store but slowly starts to cross the line and becomes entageled between Roy the crook and Roy the family. It's quite a departure from Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys being a much less serious story but it still has the undercurrents of Whitehead's typical honest and thoughtful reflection on racism in then 1959 Harlem and how much has really changed today.

*Thank you to Doubleday and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Having read both The Underground Railroad and The Nickle Boys, I was very eager to read this new work by Colson Whitehead. It was certainly a love letter to Harlem and its inhabitants,which was vividly described. The crime caper aspect of the book, however, left me wanting. In the end, the writing made the book worthwhile for me, but not my favorite of his books.
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This was an interesting book. I learned some things and I loved the setting. It flowed well and I wanted to see how things progressed. Recommend to you!
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Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of Harlem Shuffle. I heard Colson Whitehead speak after Nickel Boys came out. He talked about his creative process and not ever wanting to get stuck in a single genre. And he hasn’t. Whitehead changes up styles with Harlem Shuffle. While it has allof his amazing characters, it’s nothing like his two most recent books. It doesn’t have to be. A book about the past that has so much insight into who we are right now. Light and funny at times, devastating at others. The man is a genius!
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{Thank you to Doubleday Books for my gifted copy and my chance to share my genuine review.}

I was eager to read The Harlem Shuffle after having reading his last two novels. While my reading experiences were vastly different, I really connected with The Underground Railroad but struggled with the writing style of The Nickel Boys so I was curious as to how this one would play out.

 I like complex storylines that are drawn out over time, but I struggle with ending that seem to come out of nowhere. What I have found is that each of his books are totally unique from one another. 

Undoubtably, Whitehead is a gifted and prolific writer, but what I have come to learn over time, is that certain authors just aren't always the right fit for you as a reader. His sentences are impactful and he can pack so much into so few words which is an amazing literary win. 

And while this works for many readers, at many points this makes his books feel challenging for me as a reader.  I found that I was focusing so much on the detailed verbiage that it affected my ability to really take in the powerful premises of this books...which focus on the brutal sides of Black-American history.

While I felt a bit lost with this storyline at times, especially the flashbacks, I was highly impressed by his ability to change directions and share a crime suspense novel that also packed a powerful punch. This was a 3/5 read for me.
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I was really excited when I saw that Colson Whitehead had written a new book. The title, Harlem Shuffle, intrigued me as did the time period the book captured. I had grown up in the suburbs of New York during the time period Colson Whitehead had chosen to write about. Although, I rarely if ever found myself in Harlem during my youth, I was familiar with its boundaries and reputation back then. In Colson Whitehead’s first ever crime thriller, he brilliantly and vividly described the atmosphere, neighborhoods and people of Harlem during the late 1950’s and 1960’s in Harlem Shuffle. The characters in Harlem Shuffle were well developed and complex. Compared to The Nickel Boys, which I enjoyed on so many levels, Harlem Shuffle missed the boat in my opinion. The redeeming quality for Harlem Shuffle, in my opinion, was Colson Whitehead’s gift for writing. Unfortunately, even though I forced myself to read. the entire book, I found most of the book hard to read. I did enjoy the beginning but lost interest after that. 

The protagonist of Harlem Shuffle, Ray Carney, had grown up in Harlem. His father had been well known for his involvement with crime. Ray was determined to change his destiny. He wanted to live his life free from crime and he mostly succeeded. Ray had married well and had recently become a father to a little girl. He owned a used furniture store in Harlem where he and his family also lived. Carney’s nemesis was his cousin, Freddie. Ray and Freddie had grown up together and were more like brothers than cousins. Freddie, even as a young boy, was always getting in trouble and Ray found himself always having to bail Freddie out of trouble. In current times, Freddie found himself in possession of questionable items and hanging out with less than reputable people. Occasionally, Freddie would bring Ray pieces of jewelry that obviously had been stolen. Ray had a contact downtown where he brought the jewelry. Questions were never asked about how Ray came to be in possession of the jewelry. He graciously received a significant cash payment that he would put toward improving his store and the quality of his family life after he gave Freddie his cut. When Freddie dragged Ray into a major jewelry heist at the Hotel Theresa, dangerous crime figures started to infiltrate Ray’s life. Ray Carney had to decide how he wanted to live his life. Did he want to live an honest life or one that involved crime? Could Ray learn to balance crime while he earned an honest living and provided for his family in the way they deserved? 

Although Harlem Shuffle was disappointing for me, Colson Whitehead did an excellent job depicting the controversial issues of race, the struggle for power and the unique history of Harlem during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He portrayed the glaring inequalities between whites and blacks during that time and that unfortunately still exist today. Unfortunately, this story was not one that grabbed me. However, I enjoyed how well written it was. 

Thank you to Doubleday for allowing me to read Harlem Shuffle through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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I adore Colson Whitehead's writing. This book was no exception to that statement. However, it is not anything like his previous books. The story is very different, the pacing is slow (especially at the beginning), and the plot is very different. I still love his writing and will likely read anything he writes in the future as well. His books always come through and are worth the time. Recommend fully.
#HarlemShuffle #NetGalley #DoubleDay
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This book is *very* different from the other two I have read by Whitehead (Nickel Boys and Underground Railroad). I think that is why I was slightly disappointed, although his writing was spectacular as always. This historical fiction novel is light hearted, but there's still plenty of crime and drama. It was a little slow, but eventually I got into it and really appreciated his rich descriptions of the people and places.
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While this book started off slow for me, it eventually picked up and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything about Harlem Shuffle was vivid. I am honored to have been preapproved. I do apologize for my late review, but believe me when I say it was well worth the wait.
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3.5 rounded up

Thank you @netgalley for an eARC of this book (that I’m really delayed in finishing 😬!) 

Ray Carney is a family man trying to make an honest living at his furniture store but he’s struggling to make ends meet. His cousin Freddie wants him to join in a heist, but Ray says he’s not crooked. Freddie calls Ray out, saying that Ray doesn’t question where his goods come from. This gets Ray thinking: he may not be crooked, but he is bent. 

Ray becomes embedded in Freddie’s seedy underworld and we meet a plethora of mobsters who are thriving in the crime world in 1960’s Harlem. Ray questions himself and if he is a good man, comparing himself to these traditional criminals. 

Whitehead is a phenomenal writer and paints a vivid Harlem in this novel. The characters are quirky and vibrant, bringing more humor than other Whitehead books I’ve read. He also brings light to real issues like he always does: racism, police brutality, and classism are all addressed brilliantly. 

I enjoyed this book but the pace was very slow for me with much of the action taking place off of the page. I think the description naming this a heist book made me think it would be faster paced. While I loved Whitehead’s Underground Railroad and Nickel Boys much more than this book, it was enjoyable to read a less brutal book with the same expert prose.
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Getting to know the characters in Harlem Shuffle, the people and the city, is an adventure. The characters and their communities reflect tensions and stresses of life as the characters make their choices and take their chances.
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Harlem Shuffle is my first experience with Colson Whitehead and it did not disappoint. It was a slow read for me because I wanted to enjoy every word. The book tells the story of furniture store owner Ray Carney who is "only slightly bent when it came to being crooked." It is about more than Ray and his adventures though - it's about Harlem itself in the 1960s. Beautifully detailed and descriptive, this book gives the reader a feeling of the city as a living, breathing entity.
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3.5 Ode to Harlem stars

This one took a while to take off for me, but then the writing and characters compelled me to finish. It’s the very late 1950s and our main character Ray Carney is doing well running his furniture store in Harlem. Since his father was a serious criminal, Ray is trying to be on the up and up and run a legitimate business. It’s awfully hard not to give in to temptation though. When stolen goods and jewels just show up at your door, how do you say no? When everyone else is in the game, how do you sit on the sidelines? With payoffs galore, it’s hard to keep track of who all the players are in this ode to Harlem.

Ray is a family man and as the years go by, he is always trying to do better for his family, whether it’s moving to the newest part of town, or getting the best furniture for their own use. Ray is always trying to improve his image to his wife’s family. His cousin Freddie is deep into the criminal world and tries to stay away from Ray and the furniture store, but they’ve developed a lucrative side business. 

As the criminal activity escalates, I really worried that Ray would end up in the losing end of things. Interesting that the author had me feeling sympathy for Ray and thinking about shades of criminal activity. He wasn’t all that bad was he?

Harlem itself was a character in this one and Whitehead really brought this time to life, from stories like Ray Carney’s, to the riots, and a bit about the police and politics of the time.

Overall, I liked this one, but not as much as his earlier book "The Underground Railroad," however, he's such a talented writer that I will read all his books!
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I have read enough of Colson Whitehead to know that not one of his books is "like the rest." It's almost surprising how different they all can be from one another. I read Underground Railroad first, and I thought it was well done, but a bit long and drawn out. Then I read The Nickel Boys and could not put that down. I was sucked in, and then it shattered me. I decided I need to read more. Zone One was a completely different Genre and just not for me.  Nonetheless, I can recognize Whitehead's talent, so decided I needed to read this book as well. Again, this book falls into the "Well done, but not for me" category. I really liked Carney's character, but I had a really hard time following all the shady doings of his associates and how it all added up. The world of 1960s crime isn't really my cup of tea, so I sometimes lost interest. Someone more into this type of crime/action novel might enjoy this a lot.
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HARLEM SHUFFLE by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author Colson Whitehead is worth a look  - it was chosen for the September 2021 LibraryReads list and is an Amazon Best Book for the month, too. Departing from his previous works (including The Underground Railroad and The Intuitionist, both of which have been assigned for classroom reading), Whitehead has now crafted a mystery story set in 1960s Harlem. The main character is the self-made furniture retailer Ray Carney who tries to stay straight, but gets caught up in a world of heists and double-crosses. For me there were so many elements which were reminiscent of Blacktop Wasteland (which I REALLY enjoyed) that I had a harder time than expected of getting into Whitehead's latest work.  No such difficulty for professional reviewers, though – HARLEM SHUFFLE received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.
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I have loved every one of Colson Whitehead’s books, difficult subjects and all, and in Harlem Shuffle he takes a different route, heading into 1960’s Harlem. This is a character driven story, and as such the pacing is slow, but knowing this I did not mind. I love all stories related to New York, and I thought Whitehead did a wonderful job describing what the city and Harlem was like back then, so much so that you could feel as if you were right alongside Ray, Freddie and the others.

The story itself focuses on Ray Carney, who owns a furniture shop and squeaks by making an honest living, but occasionally helps his cousin Freddie when he drops off a piece of jewelry every now and then. Let’s be honest, he makes a decent living, but it isn’t anything to move him into the apartments he wants to live in with his wife and kids.

But Freddie falls in with a crew that is planning on robbing a hotel known as the “Waldorf of Harlem” and just happens to volunteer Ray’s services as the fence. The heist does not go as planned, no shocker there, and as a result Ray’s shop now sees the likes of the Harlem lowlifes on the reg, and sets off the internal struggle of Ray the crook vs. Ray the upstanding citizen. As he deals with this conflict, he begins to see who really is running Harlem, and what he must to do not get killed, save his cousin, and get his score to make all of this worth it, all the while keeping his reputation in tact. 

This is where Whitehead shines, showcasing Ray’s struggle as well as the Harlem landscape and what was going on during that time period. There is a slow buildup to this conflict that is worth waiting for, and the last half moves a lot quicker. I was vested in these characters and so captivated by the story that I read this in a couple of settings. This author is now firmly in the autobuy category for me.

Thank you to DoubleDay Books and NetGalley for the free digital copy to review.
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Whitehead brings the reader into the world of 1970's Harlem with vivid descriptions. Antique technology (record players?) sets the stage for a caper, which quickly escalates into a thriller.
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Harlem Shuffle
Colson Whitehead
This book is a radical departure from Coulson’s other work; an engrossing story set in Kennedy-era Harlem. Vivid descriptions of people, places, and relationships result in a multilayered story
woven together through 3 different time periods.
Ray Carney, a Black entrepreneur with his own furniture store, is making a decent life for himself and his family. He has tried to distance himself from his criminal father, but he is still “slightly bent”, thanks in no small part to his unruly cousin Freddie, a troublemaker since they were kids. “I didn’t mean to get you in trouble” is Freddie’s frequent refrain. He brings a few  “used” things for Ray to sell, but serving as a fence becomes a slippery slope when Freddie gets drawn into a questionable plan to rob Harlem’s Hotel Theresa (the “Waldorf of Harlem”) and offers Ray as receiver of the stolen goods.
Both Ray and Freddie find themselves in dangerous situations, attempting to resolve them at a tumultuous time of civil rights protests and riots threatening Ray’s store. 
Equal parts family drama, historical fiction, and commentary on morality, crime, race, and power, this ingenious work evokes delight, dread, humor, and an attachment to its characters, engrossing the reader. 

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for this honest review
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I liked this book but maybe not as much as the reviewers did. The first 2/3 of the book moved pretty slowly for me. The last third picked up the pace. Whitehead does an amazing job evoking a time and place--Harlem in the 1960s.
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