I can't believe this is Colson Whitehead's first novel. The cover (at least in the paperback version) compares the book to Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. With an eyeroll, I wrote off that bit of marketing as foolish. Why bait readers with heights that can’t be reached? I mean, Ralph Ellison? You have to be kidding. Then with five words half way through the book, the author did it. Ellison is one of the few writers who can give me chills, and Whitehead, with remarkable sparse prose at least relative to the other writer, joined that small fraternity albeit more for his reinterpretation of the noir genre. Still he has a gift, as this first novel proves, and in the few passages I’ve reread, I know I can study this book for a considerable time the way that all Ellison’s works demand. The simplest The cover also references Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, evoking a less sympathetic comparison. The quote is correct in that both offer profound racial allegories, and furthermore, those symbolic realms are suffused with gender trouble. Yet, Lila Mae Watson, Whitehead’s protagonist, is trapped by the book’s genre, shackled and grounded in noir. Morrison’s crystalline characters, on the other hand, emerge from her rough terrain, split open from narrative pressure, shift in changing light, and reveal shimmering facets of complexity. Lila Mae is too hard. That’s not to say that she doesn’t learn anything, but her character's tepid development is merely sufficient. It is noir after all. She can't have a reliable perspective of herself or her world because she can't know whom to trust, and others characters' perceptions of her are similarly varying and unsettled. Still, I'll never be able to look at an elevator or New York the same way again.