Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead [9/10]

Colson Whitehead’s 2021 Harlem Shuffle seemed trite at first, certainly compared to his previous literary novels, but quickly shone as “an ambitious, highly literate tour de force.” Its sequel, “Crook Manifesto,” is even more vaulting and prodigious, even as it, also, hides its force under a superficially slick veneer. Once more we follow Ray Carney, a striving owener of a Harlem furniture store, as he tries to shrug off his gangster heritage and claw his way to respectability in a white man’s world. Three distinct tales take place in shape-shifting Harlem in 1970, 1973, and 1976, with the middle story recounted by Pepper, the implacable brute force crook with a pungent wit, whose life dovetails with Ray’s. The three mini stories tackle crooked cops, Blaxploitation-era movies, and official corruption. Throughout, Harlem, “the City,” is vividly portrayed as a magical character. The author somehow achieves a flawless energetic tone that intelligently entertains as it smoothly portrays. Reading Crook Manifesto is a magical experience, highly recommended.

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