TUFF by Paul Beatty


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Beatty follows up the scorched-earth Afro-American satire of The White Boy Shuffle (1996) with an equally antic look at a brother from East Harlem who runs for City Council.

A tree grows in Brooklyn, but it’s no place for Winston (Tuffy) Foshay, first glimpsed coming around from a fainting fit that providentially took him out of the line of fire that terminated both his employment and his employers in a drug den in The Other Borough. What Winston needs, he soon decides, is some comforts a little closer to home: the loving arms of his wife Yolanda, joined to him in holy matrimony via a dial-a-preacher conference call to his prison ward; the inarticulate embraces of his son Bryce Extraordinaire (Jordy) Foshay; the bemused guidance of his fledgling Big Brother, Rabbi Spencer Throckmorton; the usual round of good-natured tussling with the men and women of East 109th Street; and maybe a political fling. The mad idea is Winston’s; the mad money behind it ($15,000, which he thinks of as three months of summer work at $5,000 a month) comes from aging Japanese activist Inez Nomura; but the waggish campaign slogans and strategies seem to sprout from every street corner in the ’hood. Billing himself as “ambivalent on drugs, guns, and alcohol in the community, against cats in the supermercados,” and “anti-cop, anti-cop, anti-cop,” Winston, who knows everyone in the district, doesn’t seem to ignite much more fervor than Steve Forbes, his equally surreal real-life opposite. Even Beatty himself seems no better able than his short-attention-span hero to focus on the election, which keeps getting elbowed aside by rollicking riffs on three-card monte, tales of inner-city white ethnics and black transvestites, and a gorgeous black/Jewish insult match.

The flabby plot is encrusted with jewels on every page. And if the race for city council can barely hold the candidate’s attention, that’s the punch line of Beatty’s richest joke. (First printing of 40,000)

Pub Date: May 4th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40122-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2000


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