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Tuff by Paul Beatty - Book Review


Paul Beatty
Martin Secker & Warburg

Fiction-Net Rating 4 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

Nineteen-year-old Winston 'Tuffy' Foshay - 320 pounds, new father to a baby boy he greets cheerfully with "What up, little nigger?", player, king of a motley crew in Spanish Harlem, is looking for a purpose in life, for the answer to his exasperated wife Yolanda's question, 'Winston, what you gonna do?"

After narrowly escaping death - by fainting - in a drug deal gone bad, Tuff knows he needs to make some decisions and soon, with or without the help of his tight Harlem circle - his scheming, disabled best friend Fariq, aka Smush. his Beat - Poet Black Panther father, Clifford, Inez, the Marxist revolutionary who raised him and his bewildered mentor from the Big Brother programme, the hapless African-American rabbi Spencer Throckmorton. So when Inez offers him $20,000 to run for City Council, he gamely embarks on one of the most outrageous campaigns in political history, one that changes both his vision of the world and his place in it.

Fuelled by the ferocious wit and outrage that drove Paul Beatty's extraordinary debut, The White Boy Shuffle, Tuff sees his manic energy taken to new heights of verbal dazzle.

We Say

Paul Beatty's book, Tuff, is a fascinating novel written with amazing wit and honesty. I found the main character Winston “Tuffy” Foshay both endearing and frightening but not for 'traditional' reasons. Tuffy is not described as a stereotypical thug or gang member. While Tuffy is involved in drugs and crime, he is not as cold-hearted as one would think. Instead, Tuffy is an intelligent young man who is not interested in the traditionally accepted methods of making a living. Due in part to his upbringing and environmental influences, Winston does not always feel that what society deems wrong can be considered a crime. Supported by his strong willed wife and infant son, Tuffy becomes increasingly concerned about his fate. Thus begins his search for a way to make a good living.

The United States is both blessed and plagued by democracy. The attributes that make the United States so wonderful are the same characteristics that often cause so many problems. Tuffy's exploration of the democratic process is frightening at times. Through Tuffy's search for a place in the world, Paul Beatty takes the reader on a journey through life in Harlem. What is so frightening, is that any individual given the right motivation can rise to a position of power in the government. In contrast, that is the exact reason many feel that the United States is so wonderful. As Beatty tells Tuffy's story, he avoids pulling at the reader's heartstrings. Instead, as we follow the campaign, Tuffy's story is told in a matter of fact manner. Tuffy enlightens the reader by providing insight into the reasons he and his friends break the law and choose to live their lives the way that they do.

Spencer Throckmorton is an African American nightmare of sorts. Spencer becomes Tuffy's Big Brother and it is this relationship between the two that helps the reader better see the world through Tuffy's eyes. Spencer and Tuffy's friends are constantly at odds because Spencer is seen as a man who has sold out. While many African American males are being scrutinised by their inability to provide good role models for their children and their failure to be productive citizens, Tuffy challenges the belief that he needs saving. Initially Spencer, a rabbi, believes that Tuffy needs to be saved. What Spencer comes to realise is that Tuffy does not need to be saved. In many ways, it is the conformist Spencer that needs to be saved. When Tuffy decides to run for City Council, he ends up surprising everyone.

What is perhaps most frightening about Tuffy is not his drug use or his lack of remorse when he commits a crime but his uncanny ability to see things the way that they really are. Tuffy lacks the disillusionment of his peers and rather than bemoan his fate, he accepts it and forges ahead in the only way he knows - one day at a time. Sometimes, the rationalisations he provides for his actions make sense in a frightening way.

Tuff is filled with wonderful characters and a dialogue that leaps from the pages. At times, I found myself laughing out loud. Paul Beatty's ability to present realistic characters and an unpredictable story make this a novel worth reading.

Review by: Yumi Nagasaki-Taylor

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