We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley as a digital review copy in advance of publication in return for an honest review. We Cast a Shadow is scheduled to release on 1-29-19.
Ah yes, we have reached the first “did not finish” book of the year. We Cast a Shadow follows a young, black lawyer as he attempts to climb the corporate ladder while navigating the inherent racism in the system. While I recognize that these books bring important truths into the world and allow black voices to be heard, if I’m reading fiction I cannot immerse myself in the evils that I am already drowning in every day in the real world.
The very first chapter describes a party in which the four black junior associates are being asked to be as stereotypically black as they can in order to earn a promotion. The narrator arrives at the party dressed as a normal lawyer, and discovers he must perform or be fired. The host offers him an African garb costume from her in-house museum-esque collection, and through a silly African dance and subsequent nudity when the costume falls off, he runs out of the house and into a promotion to the head of the diversity committee for community outreach. There’s so much there to unpack that I was completely stunned but also not surprised when I read the scene.
And that’s just his work life. At home he is married to a white woman and they have a biracial son with a birthmark that gets bigger every day; the blackness that he has given him that grows to overtake the whiteness. The father/narrator uses creams, bleaches, and is pursuing this promotion at work to be able to afford an operation to have his son’s birthmark removed. He seems to be the only adult involved that is concerned about it, and the son goes along because he loves his dad and doesn’t completely understand what the problem is.
I see all the symbolism here that is relevant to the struggles with race and society that black people face every day. The idea that a father would become nervous the darker his son became resonates with me in a world where unarmed black men are killed so often we don’t even see them on the news anymore. Where I decided that it was enough was when drugs and squalor entered into the story, and suddenly everything became a hallucination that the narrator had to describe life through to me, the reader. I just…I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to see this all presented in this way and be able to appreciate it. It is important to understand the difference between when something is not good and when something is not written for you.
We Cast a Shadow is well-written. The stories told present a plethora of black diasporic experience and struggle in a way that doesn’t preach, it shows you what it looks like in practice. I simply do not think that it was written for me, and that’s why I cringed my way through about 32% of it and then gave myself permission to put it down. Please do not see this review as a non-endorsement. This book is good and troubling. It was not boring and the story was very compelling. It just wasn’t for me.
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