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The White Boy Shuffle


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About the Author

Paul Beatty is also the author of the novel Tuff and two books of poetry, Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He lives in New York City.


Stylistically, this first novel is a tribute to one of Beatty's teachers, Allen Ginsberg. An author of two volumes of verse who has often been proclaimed the poet laureate of Generation X, Beatty effectively uses the Beat influence to amplify the voice of the hip-hop generation. Gunnar Kaufman, the protagonist of this coming-of-age story, earned his streetwise education in West Los Angeles, not unlike the author. Gunnar is just trying to be Gunnar‘an intelligent, sensitive young African American who survives great tribulations while sparing no one his enormous wit. He is clearly a product of our times, and many readers will enjoy his piercing, often hilarious observations on contemporary society. It will be interesting to see what else this talented writer produces in the ensuing years. Meanwhile, this work will ring especially true to those under 35. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/96.]‘Susan M. Olcott, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., Ohio

Poet Beatty's (Big Bank Take Little Bank) first novel is a kaleidoscopic literary situation comedy about one unusual African American's search for identity within a wickedly caricatured American cultural and ethnic landscape. The protagonist, narrator Gunnar Kaufman, is the latest in a long and hilarious family line of groveling Uncle Toms and accommodating fools who must nevertheless confront racism with whatever talents or hustles they happen to have. The Kaufman family's "long cowardly queue of coons'' began in the 18th century with Euripides Kaufman (who purchased his freedom by charging people "to rub me head for good luck"); continued with Franz Von Kaufman ("exceedingly bootlicking even for a slave"); and included Gunnar's own despised and self-despising father, Rolf, a member of the LAPD noted for laughing uproariously at his white colleague's racist jokes. Though Beatty's exuberantly outrageous satire often veers into slapstick, he shows himself as an astute observer of the ubiquitous power of cultural stereotype and of the elasticity of identity and community. Alternately blocked by racist assumptions and a cultivated black insularity, Kaufman's passage to self-knowledge takes him from a childhood in affluent, mostly white Santa Monica (he was the cool black guy) to a sudden relocation to the pitiless black inner-city culture in L.A.'s gangbanging Hillside neighborhood and on to ever more absurd acclaim as a basketball prodigy and street-bred poet. Beatty has a gift for hyperbolic cartoon-like characterizations and poetic parody and a sharp ear for the vivid spoken-word poetry of hip hop and urban black slang. And although he's never met a corny joke he won't force on a reader, his language and outlandish characters combine to produce an extravagantly comic vision of the American cultural moment. Author tour. (June)

"A bombastic coming-of-age novel . . . The White Boy Shuffle has the uncanny ability to make readers want to laugh and cry at the same time. Beatty mingles horrific reality with wild fancy without ever losing a grip on his story." --Los Angeles Times "The White Boy Shuffle is one of those novels of enormous energy and verbal dazzle . . . Mr. Beatty is a fertile and original writer, one to watch." --The New York Times "Laugh-out-loud funny and weep-in-silence sad . . . The language is always vibrant and alluring." --The Nation "Ferocious and funny and also streetwise." --The Boston Globe

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