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We Cast a Shadow: A Review

by Matthew B. Kelley

Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut novel, We Cast a Shadow, is a searing satire of life in the American South that is as tender as it is illuminating.


             The novel finds its nameless narrator in the near-future at a company party trying, like the company’s other token Black associates, to ascend the corporate ladder. While the motives of the other associates could be conjectured, the narrator’s motive is as clear as it is devastating. Race relations have cycled back to a time of yester-year in the City, the Southern metropolitan that could be any city. Black people have been overtly resegregated into barbwire-fenced neighborhoods, surveilled around the clock in their homes, and even forced, in other parts of the country, to ingest tracking devices.

             In the wake of this anti-Black racial terror, many Black people undergo a medical procedure called demelanization—a procedure that removes melanin from the body, a procedure the narrator hopes his promotion will allow him the chance to help his “almost” White-passing biracial son. The novel is as much about the love between a father and his son as it is a critique about the American South. Every penny saved, every ounce of skin bleaching cream applied, every decision made is in an effort to protect his son and often times the reader is confronted with the question the narrator perpetually grapples with: “What father is certain he’s doing the right thing?” What this novel is certain of is the clarity with which readers are able to see a not-so-distant future in a not-so-unrealistic America.

            Of all the questions of truth and responsibility Ruffin deals with in this novel, one reality hovers above the head of not only the narrator, but also of the reader: “For better or worse, this vicious hamlet – where I dreamed perchance of a bright future for my son – was home.” Ruffin has built a home in the neighborhood of Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and the world awaits what he might build next. 

Matthew B. Kelley is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He is a fiction fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has received fellowships from Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and Kimbilio Fiction. He lives in Iowa City, IA.

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