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“I liked my java so black, the police planted evidence on it.”
Maurice Carlos Rufin, We Cast a Shadow
One can't help feeling that were this not the author's first novel it would be a greater success and that there's potentially a great Netflix series to be made from it. As is, Mr. Ruffin has a great, if not quite original, idea for a story: in a future or alternative America segregation has been restored and most blacks put in Bantustan resembling projects, but there are opportunities for some tokens and there is a demelanization procedure by which skin can be so whitened as to enable people to "pass." The black narrator of the book is his law firm's most prized token and has a white wife and a fair-skinned child, but he is obsessed with the possibility of demelanizing the boy. Indeed, his only interest in succeeding in his career revolves around being able to afford the procedure.His mania is exacerbated by the emergence of dark birthmarks, particularly on the boy's face--a delicious invocation of Hawthorne's Birthmark.

His wife, on the other hand, urges him to simply accept their child and the boy himself seems unbothered by his own skin. The narrator is reduced to clandestinely treating his son's skin with lotions and brow-beating him into wearing wide brim hats to keep the sun away. Even after his upset wife is killed in a car accident fleeing their house and after his son runs away, the obsession endures. Years later, he tracks the now adult to a sort of communal encampment to try and convince him to be bleached.

Essentially, the book is limited because it relates one man's monomania to the exclusion of nearly all else. The author could have engaged in some more world-building and given us added texture. And/or he could have had his hero go on a personal journey where he maybe learns from his son and to love him as he is. But, because the obsession endures from first page to last, and because there is just enough of the milieu sketched in to provide a setting, this seems like a short story or novella stretched to a length that it can't quite endure. I enjoyed it early on, but, after spending 300+ pages with the narrator, really needed some kind of payoff by the end. It's a book that leaves you disappointed but very excited about what the author might achieve next time out.


Grade: (C+)


Maurice Ruffin Links:

    -TWITTER: @MauriceRuffin
    -FACULTY SITE: Maurice Ruffin Assistant Professor (LSU)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Maurice Carlos Ruffin (IMDB)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Virtual AWP: Conversations with Writers featuring Maurice Carlos Ruffin & Regina Brooks,/a> (AWP Writer, Aug 27, 2020)
-VIDEO LECTURE: Visiting Writers Series: Maurice Carlos Ruffin (UKY MFA Creative Writing, 3/01/19)
    -ESSAY: Maurice Carlos Ruffin on Being a Patriotic Black Southerner: "I know our past, and I know our pain." (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, July 3, 2019, Lit Hub)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Family Matters: Estrangements and Improvisations (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Winter 2019, VQR)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Killing Ourselves Softly: Complicity in Modern America (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Winter 2018, VQR)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Returning the Gaze: Dismantling Patriarchal Narratives of Women’s Lives (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Fall 2018, VQR)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Personal Terrors Fear and Balkanization in Tribal America (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Summer 2018, VQR)
-ESSAY: Fine Dining: Encountering New Orleans’s Racial Undertones One Meal at a Time (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Fall 2016, VQR)
    -ESSAY: The Effects of White Supremacy Are Non-Transferable: Maurice Ruffin on Watching People Mourn an America That Never Was (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, November 17, 2016, Lit Hub)
    -ESSAY: Talking in New Orleans in the Age of Trump: What Real America Helped Us Understand (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, November 7, 2016, Lit Hub)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: James Andrews interviewed by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (French Quarter Festivals, Inc, Apr 25, 2019)
    -INTERVIEW: Of Facts and Fables: Maurice Carlos Ruffin discusses his mesmerizing debut novel, We Cast a Shadow (EMILY CHOATE, SEPTEMBER 6, 2019, Chapter 16)
    -ESSAY: Don’t Blame New Orleans, and Don’t Forget It: The rest of the country is giving us a hard time about having Mardi Gras. But Louisiana didn’t have a single confirmed Covid-19 case then. (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, April 8, 2020, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: De-Melanization Procedure: A Conversation with Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Joselyn Takacs interviews Maurice Carlos Ruffin, MAY 15, 2019, LA Review of Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Element of Sacrifice: An Interview with Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Peyton Burgess, January 30, 2019, The Paris Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Q&A: Maurice Carlos Ruffin on how his dystopian future novel reflects being black in America today (MICHAEL SCHAUB, JAN. 29, 2019, LA Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Maurice Carlos Ruffin on We Cast a Shadow: If you’re trying to fit into someone else’s box, you’re gonna end up destroying yourself (Conversation between Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Ash Baker, and Zeke Perkins, 3/04/19, New Limestone Review)
    -PROFILE: As buzz for ’We Cast a Shadow’ grows, New Orleans novelist Maurice Ruffin steps into spotlight (Jarvis DeBerry, JAN 24, 2019,
    -INTERVIEW: Just Press Play with Maurice Carlos Ruffin (PEN American, June 15, 2020)
    -INTERVIEW: The Epic Tussle: A Conversation with Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Agni Online, Feb 04 2019)
    -INTERVIEW: Maurice Carlos Ruffin on place, identity, and gentrification in his hometown of New Orleans (Missy Wilkinson, Feb 4, 2019, , NOLA: Curbed)
    -INTERVIEW: The Dystopia is Now: An Interview with Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Karin Cecile Davidson, Newfound)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview with Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Adrian Van Young, July 1st, 2019, Believer)
    -ESSAY: Maurice Carlos Ruffin on Understanding Voice in Fiction: "I write as a conductor, not as a performer." (Maurice Carlos Ruffin, 8/13/21, Lit Hub)
    -ESSAY: The skin lightening industry’s history of colorism and the impact of Black Lives Matter (Lynn M. Thomas, November 29, 2020, Quartz)
    -ARCHIVES: Maurice Carlos Ruffin (YouTube)
    -ARCHIVES: Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Lit Hub)
    -ARCHIVES: Maurice Carlos Ruffin (VQR)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Renee Graham, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Michael Schaub, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Lesley Williams, Booklist)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Stephen Kearse, The Nation)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Tony Lindsay, AALBC)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Jana Hoops, Clarion Ledger)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Ian Mond, Locus)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Christopher Louis Romaguera, Ploughshares)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (AP)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Chris L. Terry, The Stacks Book Club)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (RAGAN CLARK Associated Press)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Humble Book Giant)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Shelf Awareness)
    -REVIEW: of We Cast a Shadow (Arnold Plotnick, Leisure Commando)

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