Cover Image: Harlem Shuffle

Harlem Shuffle

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Member Reviews

Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday Books for the opportunity to read an advance copy of Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle in exchange for an honest review.  

I truly enjoy a good heist story and have enjoyed several of Colson Whitehead's previous novels, so I was very excited to have access to this new one before publication.  Harlem Shuffle places the reader vividly in 1959 Harlem, in the life of Ray Carney, a furniture salesman, who is described as "only slightly bent when it came to being crooked."  That is an apt description, as for the most part, Ray tries to run his life and his business on the straight and narrow.  His family history and current associations make it difficult, and as the novel progresses through 1965, he finds it more and more difficult to keep things clean. 

The characters are well-developed, and the reader gets to know the backstory of even minor characters.  There are a lot of them, and a large number reappear throughout the book in ongoing roles.  Ray's family loyalty, as well as the financial struggles and racial disparity he struggles to overcome as a businessman allow the reader insight into the basis for his non-furniture dealings.  I especially enjoyed the middle section of the book, 'Dorvay 1961' as Ray seeks to even a score with unanticipated repercussions. 

Harlem Shuffle is a bit of a shift from other books by Mr. Whitehead; it is a family saga that reads like a crime novel.  Well worth the time to read it!
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Colton Whiteheads Harlem Shuffle is another literary masterpiece to add to the library of his previous books.A book I will be recommending to book clubs college and high school classes,#netgalley#doubledaybooks
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This story, set in Harlem, begins in 1959 with Ray Carney, a man who owns a furniture and appliance store on 125th Street, the ‘main street’ of Harlem, a street that will also come to be known as Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard years later. But that is twenty-five years in the future as this begins.

To those who know or have dealt with Ray, he is a decent guy, trying to make a decent living selling furniture at a fair price, only slightly bent when it comes to being crooked. A likeable guy to all who meet him, with a wife who is expecting a child - their second. A family man.

It almost doesn’t matter what takes place in the story, this is more of a love letter to this place and this time, an ode to the good and the bad of the time. Sprinkled throughout are references to those places that most people will recognize - the Apollo Theatre, the descriptions of the posters of the time, the rhythm of the city and the people. A slightly mischievous take on the era rather than a dark and sinister tale that seems born of a sentimental fondness for these bygone days. That doesn’t mean that it is devoid of darker, more dangerous moments, those serve to give a sense of a balance.

Harlem has changed since those days, it has become more gentrified in the years since, but Whitehead brilliantly brings the Harlem of that era to life with a nostalgic touch through this story. While this does include tragic moments, there are lighter moments, as well, and so much love for this place and these people.



Pub Date: 14 Sep 2021

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Doubleday Books / Doubleday
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Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead is a great historical fiction that has it all: history, mystery, suspense, and a fresh and unique narrative that really kept me interested from beginning to end.

It was fascinating to follow Ray and the full array of characters as they make their way (some treading water…some slowly going under) through the hopping 1960’s Harlem. There were dips, dives, twists, edges, and cliffs that kept me on my toes as I followed along. The author has a real talent in creating an intense and immersive visual of what things were like at this time. I was beyond impressed.

This is the first book I have read by this author, and it most certainly won’t be the last. 

5/5 stars 

Thank you NG and Doubleday Books for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication.
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Thank you Doubleday and NetGalley for the amazing chance to read this outstanding novel! 

Harlem Shuffle is a new American classic that should be read by everyone and take its rightful place in the literary canon. 
The writing was freaking phenomenal. I felt like I was legit in Harlem. Just fabulous writing that drew me in and didn't let go! Colson did a great job with this book! 
I couldn't turn my eyes from the pages. Stunning no doubt. 

Again thank you so much for this awesome book! 
Five amazing stars!
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I fell in love with The Nickel Boys and had such high hopes for Harlem Shuffle. However, there were just too many characters to keep track of. They prevented me from fully following the narrative and comprehending what was happening and ultimately just served as a distraction. The plot was disjointed and I just found myself not fully engaged. The writing was still strong and beautiful.
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Once again Colson Whitehead delivers on a highly readable tale exhibiting the very fortitude and strength of Black culture. Highly recommend.
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Ray is a regular guy furniture salesman who happens to get involved in a little sideways business selling lightly stolen goods and involving himself in the occasional dead body and or hotel vault heist.  This is the story of a regular guy who slowly gets himself involved in crime but still manages to be an upstanding fellow.  Set in Harlem in the 60's, Whitehead makes this story as much about Ray as about the feeling of striving to be better in Harlem.
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I think there were high expectations going into this book written by back to back Pulitzer prize winning author Colson Whitehead. I enjoyed the historical contest of the story which is set in 1960's Harlem. Ray Carney is trying to move up in life and he works hard trying make his furniture store a success. However, this novel shows how hard it is to move up on hard work alone. There are people that need to be paid off and deals that need to be made just to get by. This is a novel in three parts and each part takes place in a different time period. Colson is master story teller and even though the pace is slow the story is immersive and pulls you in. Thank you #NetGalley for my ARC.
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I'd like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book. In exchange, here is my honest review. 

This is the first book I have read by Colson Whitehead. His other two more recent and popular books are on my TBR list, but I haven't managed to get to them yet, which is certainly my fault.

In this novel, Whitehead writes with a rhythm that flows naturally and almost musically, and some of the wordplay is absolutely sublime. It is, in itself, a type of shuffle, bringing you back and forth between the two storylines that are unfolding simultaneously: Ray Carney's world, and what is happening in the world around Ray Carney. 

The story begins slow, introducing you to Ray, the minutiae of his life, the day to day struggles of a Black man trying to run a business in Harlem. You meet other characters, some of which are there for a long time, and others who are only a brief flicker and then gone, giving you a hint of how his life is changing, developing into the dual sides of himself that you see slowly merging and coming together into one version of Ray Carney that he probably wouldn't want to admit exists.

I think it's really interesting to see how Ray's life is shaped by events in society that (unfortunately) still mirror what is happening today. The death of James Powell is noted, as are the Harlem Riots of 1964, a topic I wasn't well versed in. Fortunately, the book doesn't go out of its way to explain what happens either. You see things unfold as Ray sees them unfold, and you get what mentions of them Ray is willing to give you. The man is busy and has a lot of other things preying on his mind - his cousin, inconvenient visitors, and the running of his business. Plus, he also has to balance being a family man, keeping that happy facade afloat. 

It's a crime caper without the breakneck speed of a crime caper. Everything unfolding with the slow heat of a lazy summer day. I've never read a crime story quite of this caliber before, and I found that I enjoyed it. I still have so many thoughts about this book, my brain noting one thing and another - the parallels between him and his father, the value of revenge, and of course, my favorite character - Pepper. (He's just fantastic, and if Whitehead ever wrote a separate book about him, I'd be the first in line to read it.)
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Colson Whitehead has a beautiful writing style and what especially appeals to me is that he doesn't have just one genre. Harlem Shuffle transports you to 1960s Harlem. Ray Carney is an educated black man running a furniture store by day and a few illicit activities by night. He is a devoted family man despite his own difficult childhood and unsupportive in laws. This story is told like a play in three acts with each act set in a new time period with a new challenge but with repeating characters. You can't help but root for Ray as he deals with mobsters, crooked police, fences, and unreliable relatives. The story is set against the backdrop of black in America, specifically Harlem, including riots over the police shooting of an unarmed black man. As always, Colson Whitehead draws you into his books and attaches you to his characters and doesn't let you go until the end. I highly recommend this novel whether you have read anything by this author or not. In fact, if his last few books didn't sound appealing to you, try this one.
Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
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People in 1960s Harlem know Ray Carney as a respected furniture store owner, husband, and father. Fewer people know he comes from a family of crooks, and thanks to his cousin Freddie, he's got one foot in the family business himself. After Freddie pulls Ray into a hotel heist gone wrong, it becomes harder and harder to balance his two lives.

Colson Whitehead has an incredible gift of bringing historical periods to life, and incredibly different ones at that. Harlem is its own character in the book, and the way Whitehead weaves in so much history and nuance is wonderful to read. The web of characters in Harlem Shuffle is also fantastic. The part that left me wanting more was the thriller/mystery plot. A lot happened off the page, and I think more action would have brought the scene-setting and quirky characters together a little more clearly. But still really enjoyed this!
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Great storytelling and a strong sense of place - Whitehead clearly draws you into the underbelly of mid-20th century Harlem and I loved every minute of it. Will be a great pick to help diversify my readers advisory recs for our library patrons. Thanks for the ARC!
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Set in Harlem from 1959 to 1964 this is the story of Ray Carney. Ray is a striver. He is trying to make it as an upstanding, respectable small business man selling new and gently used furniture at his shop on 125th Street.  But Ray's business and indeed his life have a back door that opens onto the less respectable side of life in Harlem. Sometimes Ray steps out of that door and sometimes things come through it but he still strives to keep up his respectability. This is the very engaging story of Ray's balancing act between these two worlds. It is also a beautiful portrayal of Harlem during those crucial years.
This is an excellent book and an enjoyable read.
(This review is of an ARC)
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Raymond Carney loves his wife and children and his cousin Freddy, and because he does and he's a black man living in Harlem in the 50's and 60's, it's not easy to make an honest living. But he does his best in this powerful new story from a masterful writer who only gets better with each book he writes. Yes, this is a heist story that goes wrong, but it's also an exploration of what a person will do for their family, however they define family. While some things change over the years, the more things change, the more they stay the same as events in this story show in a way that comes across as realistic, without being preachy. This is probably the best book I've read so far this year and I highly recommend it.
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💎 Colson Whitehead’s newest novel, Harlem Shuffle veers in a completely different direction than his past two Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. It’s a heist novel set in a meticulously described civil rights-era Harlem. 

💎Ray Carney, as far as anyone knows, is an upstanding furniture store owner. When his cousin Freddie, who is the opposite of upstanding, brings Ray the random piece of jewelry here and there, Ray knows just where to go with it  But that’s OK, right?  It seems to be until Freddie volunteers Ray to be the fence for a big heist at the Hotel Theresa, the “Waldorf of Harlem.”  Now Ray has dirty cops, gangsters and others of ill-repute visiting his store and they are NOT there to check out the latest sofa or dinette set.  

💎Mr. Whitehead has again brought vividly to life bits of Black history from the Freedom Riders to the Harlem Race Riot of 1964, which, sadly, bears quite a resemblance to life today. With a lot of characters and names such as Miami Joe, Chink Montague, and Pepper, I found it difficult at times to keep track of who was who, and as the story delved into these characters’ backgrounds, it added to my confusion. Ray Carney is a likable enough protagonist who strives to do right by his family , and in doing so demonstrates just how easy it is to do the wrong thing for the right reason. Although I did find the story entertaining, reading it in two days, it wasn’t exactly what I was anticipating or hoping.  Maybe my expectations were just too high. 

💎Thank you to @netgalley and @doubledaybooks for my uncorrected ebook in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to pick up your own copy, it is available for pre-order, and will be released 9/14/21.
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Furniture store owner Carney is trying to live the straight life in the shadow of his crook father, but the world of crime keeps pulling him in.
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Colson Whitehead is a fabulous writer no matter what he's writing. This book is a self-described "caper" book set in the Harlem of the 1960s. Atmospherically beautiful and full of character. The main character, Ray, is striving - to be better, to be successful, and the get his family to Riverside Drive. To get there, he feels the need to do a few shady things in addition to his furniture business. It took me a short time to get into the story (I acknowledge that the power of the last two books makes a switch to a crime book take a minute) but once I did it was a quick read. I liked Ray, his wife, and his two employees, Marie and Rusty, but especially liked Pepper. Highly recommend.
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The book sets up three side-by-side vignettes in Ray Carney's life in Harlem in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In the first, Carney's just struggling to get on his feet with his business, dreaming of a better life for him and his family. He gets involved in offloading the take from a heist his no-good cousin Freddie's involved in, and dives deeper into a life of crime. In the second and third stories/sections, this narrative progresses as Carney takes more conscious actions diving into this underworld that moves within Harlem. Whitehead moves us beyond understandings of crime as good or bad, as we consider Carney's involvement in various schemes. In one scene, he's driving along with a cop, collecting his cut from businesses around Carney's block, and Carney's shocked to realize how many of the businesses that surround him have a more devious underworld side. We're left with the feeling that Carney's just doing what he needs to support his family, but complex questions of ethics arise along the way, driving readers to question what they know and believe.

I appreciated the way that this book shows us how Harlem and questions of race relations are evolving into the 1960s. We see the emergence of civil rights activism (e.g. lunch counter sit-ins) and riots after the police kill a black kid in the city, and the impact of these actions on local businesses like Carney's furniture. We watch the city evolve as big powerplayers like the VanWyck family builds highrises, stacking money up high, changing neighborhoods like those Carney has visited along the way.

This book gave me all the feels - good and bad. It was delightful and exhausting and lovely and frustrating, and left me unsure which way was up. It moved slowly, but Whitehead used this time to build narratives of multiple sides of Harlem, of race and power, and of complex families. In some ways, this reminded me of James McBride's Deacon King Kong -- in its pacing, in its complex racial relations, its NYC setting, and its navigation of crime and ethics.
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The premise of Whitehead’s new book was so intriguing, and I was fiendishly excited to dive in. I loved so much of his writing thinking back to 1960s Harlem, though there were many passages in the book that were tough to work through. It’s possible that the storyline just wasn’t for me, but I wish I did love it more. I did find Carney’s perspective as only a “slightly bent” man, Pepper, & Freddie interesting—I would love to see an adaptation of this and to hear/see more about them.
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