The Nickel Boys was on a lot of “Best of” lists for 2019 so I figured to check it out and I’m glad I did. I haven’t read anything else by Colson Whitehead so not sure if this is true with all of his writing but he got me to feel a degree of empathy for his characters that was so deep that by the end of the book I felt wrung out.
I don’t get that a lot.
Moreover, I’m a middle age white guy and here I am feeling really deep connection and empathy towards these African american boys in Jim Crow south. Whitehead’s ability to connect the reader to these characters is unreal. I found myself highlighting certain passages throughout the book that achieved this effect and by then end I realized that part of his skill lies in what I think of as a casual intimacy with the characters’ inner lives.
Meaning the powerfully brutal scenes built connection and alone they would have probably been sufficient. But certain scenes where the narrator makes these offhanded observations—like when waiting for a table at a restaurant, briefly wondering if the delay is racism or just bad service—reveal the lens through which the characters are viewing the world and by the end of the book you and the character are nearly one and the book is just a powerfully moving experience. Grateful that Whitehead wrote it and that I got to experience it.