Calling Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow a satire seems less an accurate description than an effort to cushion the blows this novel lands with lethal precision ... Given the frightful state of our nation, there isn’t enough satire in the world to outpace the madness heaped upon us daily. This is to Ruffin’s benefit. He can drive his story to the outer limits and beyond, and never lose the threads of bitter reality that make it so haunting. We Cast a Shadow soars on Ruffin’s unerring vision.
We Cast a Shadow, Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut novel, asks some of the most important questions fiction can ask, and it does so with energetic and acrobatic prose, hilarious wordplay and great heart ... At any moment, Ruffin can summon the kind of magic that makes you want to slow down, reread and experience the pleasure of him crystallizing an image again. The narrator’s intellectual style also allows for a lot of sentence-level fun ... The fluidity of the narrator’s mind keeps us on our toes; we race to keep up with him as his thoughts wind and bend across the pages ... We Cast a Shadow churns fresh beauty from old ugliness ... Read this book, and ask yourself: Is this the world you want?
... stunning and audacious ... [The books is] at once a pitch-black comedy, a chilling horror story and an endlessly perceptive novel about the possible future of race in America ... There's a lot going on in We Cast a Shadow, but Ruffin proves to be a master at juggling the numerous characters and storylines. It's a fast-paced and intricately plotted book, but not one that's solely reliant on its many plot twists — the real draw of the novel is Ruffin's gift at creating unforgettable characters ... Perhaps Ruffin's greatest accomplishment is the world he's built in his novel — one that's alarmingly close to the America of today ... There's no doubt that We Cast a Shadow, with its sobering look at race in America, can be difficult to read, but it's more than worth it. It's a razor-sharp debut from an urgent new voice in fiction, and a warning about what the future could hold for America and for the world.
Provocative ... Ruffin skewers institutional racism with style and wit. But he also reveals the insidious nature of racism and the complex psychology of the marginalized ... boldly explores race in America as few novels have. Ruffin tackles his subject matter with lively prose and an entertaining plot.
The world Ruffin creates is semi-satirically extreme, yet there is an air of plausibility that is unsettling ... Heart-wrenching and morally ambiguous, We Cast a Shadow explores questions of justice and self-actualization ... Unapologetic in his ability to make the reader uncomfortable, We Cast a Shadow is a challenging, thought-provoking debut by Ruffin.
At its best, Ruffin’s satire is an unflinching reminder that the ignored blemishes of today—de facto segregation, colorism, police brutality—could be the cankers of tomorrow ... But in ways that plague its microgenre as a whole, the book spends more time romping around the fun-house than exploring the carnival that props it up ... The narrator’s candidness about his goals and his world give the novel a gonzo intimacy that’s as engrossing as it is repulsive ... the novel lacks a certain dialectical quality; there is a pull but no push. When he says he’s a unicorn, as arrogant as that sounds, there’s no way to verify or disprove the assertion. Whereas writers like Ellison, Beatty, and April Sinclair have stylishly used the idiocy of racism to comically offset its grayscale misery, Ruffin’s jokes are muted and hard to spot. What is parody and what is not is sometimes difficult to parse ... Ruffin’s narrator essentially monologues for the entire book, overshadowing all of his opponents besides those in his head. He’s too loud and too visible ... rarely explores how white supremacy operates as a system—the animus that fuels it, the society that sustains it, the lives and resources it consumes. Like its counterparts, the story relies so heavily on the inherent spectacle of racial transformation that it obscures the forces that conspire to make whiteness desirable ... scratches the surface of systemic racism—the way that injustice ripples through generations—it ends up settling for little more than a neat character portrait.
I came to despise our narrator, and yet the great strength of We Cast a Shadow is that I kept on reading. Partly it’s because the plot takes a couple of unexpected turns, including the emergence of a black nationalist movement/terrorist group akin to the Panthers, but mostly it’s because our narrator is never cast as a villain or a caricature. His actions, as sinister and as misguided as they are, are symptomatic of a country that refuses to acknowledge its own deep scars. With his debut, Maurice Carlos Ruffin has written an unsettling, challenging novel, but also one that leaves a lasting, powerful impression.
Rakishly funny and distressingly up-to-the-minute ... Whether they're caused by delusion, naiveté, dread, rage, or some combination thereof, the narrator’s excesses sometimes make him as hard for the reader to endure as he is for those who either love or barely tolerate him. But his intensely rhythmic and colorful voice lifts you along with him on his frenetic odyssey ... Ruffin’s surrealist take on racism owes much to Invisible Man and George S. Schuyler’s similarly themed 1931 satire, Black No More. Yet the ominous resurgence of white supremacy during the Trump era enhances this novel’s resonance and urgency.
Brilliant, semisatirical ... Though Ruffin’s novel is in the vein of satires like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and the film Get Out, it is more bracingly realistic in rendering the divisive policies of contemporary America, making for a singular and unforgettable work of political art.