Tuff by Paul Beatty


Published in 2000, this is Beatty’s first novel. [Editor’s note, Paul Beatty’s first novel, The White Boy Shuffle was published in 1996.] Like his Man Booker-award-winning novel, The Sellout (2015), Tuff is a simultaneously hilarious and scathing story about race in “postracial” America. Perhaps because I’m reading it in 2017, I can’t help reading the book as a story of populist politics breaking the two-party system that has long ignored large swaths of America. (But in a way that doesn’t make me want to emigrate to Mars). After narrowly surviving a drug-related shooting, Tuff decides, in fits and starts, to do something different with his life. His real dream is to make a “commercial” film called “Captain Crunch– the Movie” starring Danny DeVito (though he is far more interested in art-house films). He ends up, however, running for City Council.

The book is hilarious– Tuffy and his friends trade razor-sharp wit and philosophical observations about their lives in Harlem as they try one scheme or another to run minor cons, secure living-wage jobs, finish college, or raise their kids. “Acerbic, irreverent, biting, sharp, playful”– pick your literary descriptor for humor as you please, but this book is just flat-out funny. I should mention there’s enough swearing in the book to impress a fleet of sailors, and includes so many uses of the “n-word” that even Huck Finn would blanch or blush.

Availability:  USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one word title.

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