Crime And Punishment
Esquire Singapore|October 2021
The new novel from the author of The Underground Railroad is both a departure and a return.
Olivia Ovenden

In 2019, Colson Whitehead, the author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, decided to realise a long-held ambition and write a crime caper. Harlem Shuffle follows furniture salesman Ray Carney through three decades and three crimes, as his crooked side-hustle as a fence for stolen goods takes over his life.

In order to flesh out his protagonist, Whitehead, who appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 2019, headline America’s Storyteller, walked the streets of Harlem. There, the 51-year-old discovered that even he, born and raised and still resident in Manhattan, could still be surprised by New York City. “I’d never been to Marcus Garvey Park but it was a big place for dumping bodies if you were a gangster,” he tells me on a Zoom call from his holiday home on Long Island, where he spends time with his wife, Julie Barer, a literary agent, and their two children. “You find out stuff like that and it becomes part of the lore of the characters’ lives.”

Whitehead—a formidable presence even virtually, delivering uncomfortable truths before chuckling at how bleak they sound when said aloud—had the idea for Harlem Shuffle in 2014. At the time he was working on his breakthrough novel, The Underground Railroad, a project which took him over a decade to complete, adding a line or two as they came to him. The book followed Cora, a slave who escapes from a plantation using the network of safe passages of the title, which Whitehead, in an inspired twist of magical realism, reimagined as a physical, subterranean train route running beneath America’s southern states.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM ESQUIRE SINGAPOREView All

A Guide to Modern Drinking

New bar menu A Guide to Modern Drinking, Volume II makes a museum out of Tippling Club.

3 mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

Lee Pace - Man Of Letters And Warm Coats

Lee Pace is a science-fiction head, a star of the show Foundation, Twitter’s new crush, and an all-around good guy. He also looks great in this season’s most stylish outerwear.

4 mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

Next Up… Joy Song

Not your typical filmmaker, Song views a world through a lens that’s uniquely her own.

5 mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

Statement Making Furniture And Accessories

Once again, Toiletpaper and Seletti aren’t afraid of making a statement.

4 mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

Leaving Afghanistan Behind

The longest war in American history is now over. As these six eyewitness perspectives attest—a commanding general, a sniper, an interpreter and others—although the fighting is done, the battle over its memory is just beginning.

10+ mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

The Beauty In Lying To Yourself

It’s like the world has been rubbing our noses in it. Broken government. Police brutality. A global pandemic. Climate change. Awash in harrowing realities, the author, a novelist, discovers the sustaining power of everyday fictions.

9 mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

In An Age Of Social Media, Will We Finally Make Contact?

Unidentified flying objects are becoming more ubiquitous in this day of cell phones and social media. So, will there be a wider acceptance of extraterrestrials or will these be dismissed entirely?

9 mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

the new deal

Four distinct individuals gamely signed up to form Panthepack, the latest all-Chinese musical collective. Their mission: to be the next wave of music while showcasing their heritage and roots. As they converge, Esquire finds out their plans and driving force to achieve their vision.

10+ mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

Nothing wrong with not fitting in

On the idea of being a little out of this world, NEIL HUMPHREYS insists that being unconventional is the way to go.

5 mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021

humanity in craft

The latest instalment of the Tod’s Factory project is a conversation of ingenuity and craft legacy between a Japanese and an Italian brand both founded in shoemaking. As Hender Scheme’s Ryo Kashiwazaki tells us, it’s a shared language that defies communication barriers.

4 mins read
Esquire Singapore
November 2021