Harlem Shuffle: Book Review

There are some novels that you are glad you picked up and decided to read them. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead Shuffle is one of those novels. Find out why you should read this novel as well as read a short summary of it!

Harlem Shuffle Summary

It is 1959 and Raymond Carney is expecting a second child with his wife Elizabeth. They reside in Harlem where Carney owns a furniture shop on 125th Street. Carney wants to provide for his family and live mostly a clean life (he sells stolen electronics) but he is pulled into the criminal world by his cousin.

Eddie is like a brother to Carney but he doesn’t know how to avoid trouble. He makes a living by any means necessary and approaches Carney for his latest job. Does Carney want to get involved in something illegal that might jeopardize his store and put his family in danger? Or does he do one last job with Eddie so he can move his family to a better apartment?

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
Harlem Shuffle book review

Harlem in the late 50’s and the early 60’s sees a lot of change and Carney sees it firsthand. From drug becoming a big issue in his neighborhood to protests and riots because of a murder of a teenager by a police officer. Carney also sees how criminals legally fraud the system and the people living in Harlem and in New York.

Author and Book History

The novel makes a couple time skips and tells a bunch of different stories involving Carney from 1959-1964. Colson started writing the novels before his novel The Nickel Boys (if you haven’t read it, then you are missing out on one of the best novels of the past decade.) It was published in 2021 as Colson finished it in “bite-sized chunks” which explains the break-up of the novel,

Harlem Shuffle is a beautifully written novel that shows why Whitehead is considered one of the best authors around. He won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his last two books. While this book didn’t win that award, it did make it to Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2021.

Harlem Shuffle


Reading about New York City and Harlem in the late 1950’s to the early 1960’s was a delight. Whitehead not only captures the essence of Harlem but points out all of the hypocrisies of New York City and how it treated its black residents. Through Carney, we see the plight of a man trying to face everything that is thrown at him and him trying to raise above it. But sometimes, he has had enough and just says “Fuck it.”

I loved this novel and enjoyed the stories being divided up in sections. That made it easier to put down once I finished reading them. Otherwise, I may have read it all in one sitting. The characters are fresh and enjoyable and oddly enough, it feels like Harlem itself was a character in the novel. Happy reading!

P.S. You can read a short part of the book at the New Yorker here!

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