A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes


Listened October 2016
Recommended for fans of dark comedy
 ★     ★     ★     ★     ★  

Read by Samuel Jackson, this was an absolute auditory treat, keeping me transfixed on the drive from Georgia to Kentucky.

Expecting something more of the snoozy literary bent, I discovered a tight little story of the dark comedy-thriller school set in Harlem in the 1950s. Jackson has scraped together every last cent to get his money ‘raised up’ from $10 bills to $100 bills. Though he has a job in a funeral home, he would like to make a good life for his new girlfriend… at least, once she gets divorced from her missing husband. As the money ‘cooks,’ the stove blows up and a FBI agent raids the kitchen. Jackson finds himself holding the bag and driven to contact his twin brother who operates in the fringes of the criminal world. What follows is a bunch of escalating craziness as everyone tries for a cut of the action, and poor ol’ Jackson the character is the simpleton pivot on which it all turns.

It turns out that hidden beneath the rather madcap plotting is a great deal of social commentary. I loved Himes’ sly insinuations through rich characterization and setting. Instead of the “it was this way, we were so poor that way, racial inequity was terrible that way,” he uses solid and more emotionally powerful examples to demonstrate various realities. For instance, at one point someone is being chased by a white policeman and there’s a bit of back-and-forth about what it means to give any information to the police.

I was a little exhausted by the escalating insanity by the end (driving as much as listening, I expect, as the audio comes in under 6 hours), but the voice acting by Jackson the actor was effing a-ma-zing. I loved his drunk ‘Fats’ voice at the railway station and his pompous Reverend voice. The acting was excellent and brought a flavor to it that I would have missed reading on my own. There was a time or two when quality of the recording changed between chapters, but it soon resumed enjoyable. Himes’ writing is very descriptive, meant to evoke a flavor of a time period in Harlem and the lives of various residents. Himes makes various points about ‘black dialect,’ country versus city, and the ‘educated’ voice, and the skill of the voice acting absolutely added to the quality of the experience.

Five stars for the audio.

A large chunk of gold for Kemper for reviewing the audio and bringing it to my attention. Just check under the coal chute.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Mystery, Thriller and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

  1. Melora says:

    I’ll look for this one — thank you for the recommendation and the fine review!

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