New Orleans-based author Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut novel We Cast a Shadow is an insightful, funny, and challenging read about race and parenting in America. Set in a future version of the south, in an unnamed city that bares some resemblance to New Orleans, We Cast a Shadow’s America is one with lessening freedoms for people of color and new procedures to help them blend in with white people.
The unnamed narrator of Ruffin’s book is a hard pill to swallow. A lawyer at a huge firm, he has his eye on a big promotion and the pay raise that comes with it so that he can get his son a demelanization treatment. The narrator’s aspirations are obviously with good intent – he wants the best for his son and does not want him to undergo the same types of mistreatment and difficulties that he has gone through, but when his son and his wife both don’t want him to have the treatment, the narrator ignores their wishes and continues to push to get what he wants.
The book is darkly comical with a mixed bag of characters, all slightly unreal and strange, floating in and out of the narrative. It is not a book for those who find it important to read likeable characters. The protagonist is complicated and tragic, and while the reader may be able to connect to his love and protectiveness toward his son, his disregard of his son’s wishes and hatefulness toward his son’s friend who encourages him to stand up to his father, often make him a hard character to bear. Since the narrator is the main point of view we get throughout the book, we don’t get much into the internal lives of the other characters, and they mostly serve as foils or props for the main character’s single-minded escapades.
The book is a satire that heightens and brings into focus our own reality, with moments of humor, but due to the subject matter, it is a dark, and difficult read.