Fire in His Eyes

The 1980s are just around the corner.

Ray Carney’s New York, captured from 1973 to 1979 in Crook Manifesto, the second volume of Colson Whitehead’s Harlem trilogy, is in a constant state of scaffolding, caught between a criminal element hustling in its nooks and crannies; working people trying to build something for themselves; schemers with grander designs; and those who’d burn the whole thing down. Every question of class, loss, and desire is made material: Carney hawks symbolically laden furniture to middle-class strivers but can’t quite kick his old fencing habits. He dodges the Dumas Club, a mannered retreat for the Harlem elite, aka his in-laws, and thinks fondly back on the dingy, subway-adjacent apartment of his youth. Then arson claims one of his tenements, another side gig. The culprit’s fire lust may be totally anarchic, but his talents are being used by powerful people invested in urban renewal and real estate speculation. The 1980s are just around the corner.