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White Boy Shuffle: A Novel

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Paul Beatty's hilarious and scathing debut novel is about Gunnar Kaufman, an awkward, black surfer bum who is moved by his mother from Santa Monica to urban West Los Angeles. There, he begins to undergo a startling transformation from neighborhood outcast to basketball superstar, and eventually to reluctant messiah of a "divided, downtrodden people."

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The White Boy Shuffle: A Novel

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Paul Beatty's hilarious and scathing debut novel is about Gunnar Kaufman, an awkward, black surfer bum who is moved by his mother from Santa Monica to urban West Los Angeles. There, he begins to undergo a startling transformation from neighborhood outcast to basketball superstar, and eventually to reluctant messiah of a "divided, downtrodden people."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A bombastic coming-of-age novel . . . The White Boy Shuffle has the uncanny ability to make readers want to laugh and cry at the same time. Beatty mingles horrific reality with wild fancy without ever losing a grip on his story."—Los Angeles Times

"The White Boy Shuffle is one of those novels of enormous energy and verbal dazzle . . . Mr. Beatty is a fertile and original writer, one to watch."—The New York Times

"Laugh-out-loud funny and weep-in-silence sad . . . The language is always vibrant and alluring."—The Nation

"Ferocious and funny and also streetwise."—The Boston Globe

Jeanie Pyun

In his satirical first novel, Paul Beatty -- a prominent hip-hop poet who's been lauded by the likes of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. -- presents a very unique character indeed. Gunnar Kaufman comes from a long line of African-American men who, at first glance, might be deemed a disgrace to their race. Well, okay, at second glance, too: His family tree includes a manservant so loyal no one had the nerve to tell him that his white master was dead; a first-generation-free artist who sought inspiration in a return to the slave lifestyle; a music promoter of white acts that ripped off Motown and R&B groups; and his father, who works proudly, wholeheartedly and unconflictedly for the LAPD.

Gunnar has his own problems: his mother "rescues" him from a life of Santa Monica privilege (Generation X style -- picture a smart, ironic boy who listens to Henry Rollins and hangs out with bar-mitzvahed surfers) and plops him down in inner-city L.A. They live near a "bustling Italian intersection, without the Italians" -- but with gangs, guns and girls sporting towering, sculptured hairdos who love to kick his ass.

Gunnar manages to survive, albeit with some formidable -- nay, mythical -- tools. These include a devastating basketball dunk; his terse, tragicomic poetry; and the love of what can only be termed a postmodern posse -- a Mishima-worshipping star ball player; an honorable, crossbow-carrying gangbanger named Psycho Loco; and a sassy, quickwitted Asian mail-order bride. If all this sounds a bit over the top and too clever for its own good, it is. But you'll barely notice that among Beatty's many humorous ambushes. (I found myself making those strangulated-sounding yips and barks that tend to embarrass in public. Yip rate: one about every two pages.)

Beatty's brilliantly twisted parodies of racial stereotypes are a marvel, as is his fast-paced, yet disciplined, writing style: "Mrs. Schaefer spat off the names like salted peanut shells. 'Wardell dams?' 'Here.' Varnell Alvarez?' 'Aqui.' 'Praise-the-Lord Benson?' 'Yupper.' 'Chocolate Fondue Edgerton?' 'That's my name, ask me again and you'll be walking with a cane.' 'I don't know how to pronounce the next one.' 'You pronounce it like it sounds, bitch. Maritza hakaleema Esperanza the goddess Tlazoteol Eladio.' 'So you're here?' 'Do crack pipes get hot?'"

No matter how fast and furious the laughs, it's clear that Gunnar's constant parlaying of life's sow's ears into silk Prada bags (he attends Boston University; his poetry provokes a profound new political movement) is really a fictional counterpart to Beatty's own survival m.o. The White Boy Shuffle leaves you with the stark realization that its hilarity comes at a high cost. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Poet Beatty's (Big Bank Take Little Bank) first novel is a kaleidoscopic literary situation comedy about one unusual African American's search for identity within a wickedly caricatured American cultural and ethnic landscape. The protagonist, narrator Gunnar Kaufman, is the latest in a long and hilarious family line of groveling Uncle Toms and accommodating fools who must nevertheless confront racism with whatever talents or hustles they happen to have. The Kaufman family's "long cowardly queue of coons'' began in the 18th century with Euripides Kaufman (who purchased his freedom by charging people "to rub me head for good luck"); continued with Franz Von Kaufman ("exceedingly bootlicking even for a slave"); and included Gunnar's own despised and self-despising father, Rolf, a member of the LAPD noted for laughing uproariously at his white colleague's racist jokes. Though Beatty's exuberantly outrageous satire often veers into slapstick, he shows himself as an astute observer of the ubiquitous power of cultural stereotype and of the elasticity of identity and community. Alternately blocked by racist assumptions and a cultivated black insularity, Kaufman's passage to self-knowledge takes him from a childhood in affluent, mostly white Santa Monica (he was the cool black guy) to a sudden relocation to the pitiless black inner-city culture in L.A.'s gangbanging Hillside neighborhood and on to ever more absurd acclaim as a basketball prodigy and street-bred poet. Beatty has a gift for hyperbolic cartoon-like characterizations and poetic parody and a sharp ear for the vivid spoken-word poetry of hip hop and urban black slang. And although he's never met a corny joke he won't force on a reader, his language and outlandish characters combine to produce an extravagantly comic vision of the American cultural moment.
Library Journal
Stylistically, this first novel is a tribute to one of Beatty's teachers, Allen Ginsberg. An author of two volumes of verse who has often been proclaimed the poet laureate of Generation X, Beatty effectively uses the Beat influence to amplify the voice of the hip-hop generation. Gunnar Kaufman, the protagonist of this coming-of-age story, earned his streetwise education in West Los Angeles, not unlike the author. Gunnar is just trying to be Gunnaran intelligent, sensitive young African American who survives great tribulations while sparing no one his enormous wit. He is clearly a product of our times, and many readers will enjoy his piercing, often hilarious observations on contemporary society. It will be interesting to see what else this talented writer produces in the ensuing years. Meanwhile, this work will ring especially true to those under 35. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/96.]Susan M. Olcott, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., Ohio
Kirkus Reviews
Hip-hop poet Beatty delivers a first novel that almost lives up to its hype. His manic energy and nothing-sacred sensibility add up to some inspired irreverence in a book mocking every sacred cow of Afro-American history.

Beatty smartly mythologizes street culture even as he demythologizes so much of official black experience. His narrator, Gunnar Kaufmann, a self-described demagogue and messiah, preaches a nihilistic credo of mass suicide for blacks, an "Emancipation Disintegration." The novel is Gunnar's Monty Pythonish rewrite of Afro-American history, including tales of ancestors who escaped into slavery and leading up to the relative who set up Malcolm X. Gunnar's early years in Santa Monica are a p.c. joke, with everyone massaging his "tragic negro" status. When his mom decides to move him to the 'hood, the street-stupid Gunnar learns how to talk black and get down with the homeys. In high school, he becomes a basketball superstar and an aspiring poet with his own posse of like-minded ghetto geeks, including Nicholas Scoby, a fellow basketball star and ace student. When these bros' get down, it means a drive-by arrow-shooting with an operatic soundtrack. Eventually, Nick and Gunnar land scholarships to Boston University, where Gunnar publishes his first book, Watermelanin, which sells millions of copies and makes Gunnar a reluctant spokesman for black America. His message, though, is a Mishima-inspired call for mass suicide and an end to all African-Americans. Along the way in this crazy romp, Beatty mocks Afrocentrism, concerned white liberals, the idea of black leadership, the poetry scene in America, and every iconic figure of Black History month.

A wildly inventive debut that veers between spirited brilliance and Def Comedy Jam vulgarity.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312280192
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 402,381
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Beatty is also the author of the novel Tuff and two books of poetry, Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2009

    this book is SO darn good!

    I loved this novel. It is so damn good.

    The writing is unreal. It's like one long poem ...but not at all like that.

    Oftentimes novels are called honest and I thought I knew what that meant. Dare I say Paul Beatty raised the bar in the honesty category with this one.

    Like many have said before me, Beatty's writing is hella angry and mad comical at the same time.

    How one can capture so much - and so much nuance - in 226 pages I have no clue?! The title of genius is grossly overused but I'm thinking it here.

    One of many great passages...

    "...'But are you ready to die and kill for your people?' said chief firefighter Dexter Waverly. Dexter wore a red dashiki trimmed with miniature elephant tusks and tightly gripped the sides of the lectern with both hands. ...Bored with the racial braggadocio, Dexter raised a hand for quiet, and the muttering stopped. ...'Brothers and sisters' - uh-oh - 'Comrade Essie Brooks's combination fashion show and literacy program is a wonderful idea. A stroke of genius ...The fashion show-literacy program will use the Afro-chic to uplift the Afro-weak. ...What we propose is an intellectual inheritance, an eternal trust fund for minds yet unborn. Young, black, not-yet-tainted-by-the-toxic-dyes-of-self-hatred minds. ...when you talk to teachers of our youth, they say, 'The young bastards and bastardettes can't learn. They have short attention spans.' Well, then you need to lengthen the attention span. ...When man invented the jet, did they say, 'No, man, you cannot fly these supersonic jets, the runway is too short - you can't take off...?' No, they lengthened the runway. And we gonna lengthen the fashion runway for our little black jets. Stretch their attention spans with fine black folks modeling black clothes. ...each model will carry a sign with a grammar lesson on it. ...Imagine with me, if you will, the fine and sexy premed major light-skinned Linda Rucker, in a little one-piece bathing suit carrying a sign that reads 'i before e except after c.' There'll be booty and learning for days." (p. 185)

    Beatty let's NO ONE off the hook ...which is a mark of a genius author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2003

    Great read.

    It took me a chapter or two to get into the flow of Paul Beatty's narrative, but once I did, I could not put the book down. Rich language, strong characters and a solid story made this a pleasure to read. And it was funny. Strongly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2002


    As a 14 year-old white kid, I picked this book up at first expecting a funny read. Well, not only did I get that, but I learned a lot about the state of our Nation, even though this was written almost a decade ago. This book combines humor, along with political insight, that I doubt will ever be matched. I would also like to say that this was one of the first books I ever read cover to cover, and enjoyed. Since I finished this book I have read all of Paul Beatty's books (poetry and novel) and other poetry books, and books on social issues in America. This book will truly open your eyes to problems in America, on every spectrum.

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