My Review of Shaft, by Ernest Tidyman

10 Nov

November 10, 2018

Shaft is a deep book. Oh, not in the sense that it touches on deep issues and ponders difficult sociopolitical questions, but in the sense that it puts you in Shaft’s head and he thinks deep thoughts about everything.

Every freakin’ thing.

Reading this book I wonder if Shaft has ever had a happy day in his life. The book can be a ponderous read at times because Shaft ponders everything. Nothing is just surface, everything is fodder for Shaft’s dark and dolorous musings. There’s a dark cloud behind every beam of sunlight in Shaft’s world. There are bad intents behind every person Shaft sees in the street, and in every glance Shaft sees the bad behind the good. To be fair, Shaft comes by that worldview honestly, and it serves him well in his job, but even when the case is wrapped and Shaft is playing a board game with a child, he’s deep in brooding. And what is he brooding about? How the child beat him in the game, and Shaft will get better and beat him next time, then have to let the kid win after that because, after all, he’s an adult playing a kid in a kid’s game. Even downtime with a young child brings out the rain clouds.

Does Shaft ever smile?

Despite all that, I liked the book. It feels like a slice of the seventies and this is a book that could only have been written in that era. On the other hand, it deals extensively in stereotypes. Every black person is a militant or a drug dealer. Every Italian is connected to the Mafia. Every white girl wants to sleep with a black man and every white man is afraid of the black man. I would stop short of saying there is anything truly racist about this book, but I can see the arguments. However, Shaft does have some clearly anti-Semitic thoughts about the Jews, making the title of the next book, Shaft Among The Jews, more intriguing.

I read the book because I always like reading the source material behind classic films, and the movie Shaft is an undisputed classic. The big question is, of course, is the book better than the movie? I have to say no. I enjoyed the movie much more. Even if I was listening to Isaac Hayes’ soundtrack as I read the book I couldn’t help but feel like Shaft is not a character I’m in a hurry to revisit, at least in literary form.




3 Responses to “My Review of Shaft, by Ernest Tidyman”

  1. Mac of BIOnighT November 11, 2018 at 12:40 am #

    The French Connection is one of my favorite movies, as you know, and one of the finest from its decade. So years ago I got the book it was taken from and I was all excited about it. Too bad it’s one of the least interesting books I’ve ever read. It’s not even boring, if something bores you, at least it’s doing something for/to you. This is so totally dull that it’s like blank pages. But that book is genius compared to Jaws. How such a moronic, badly written, stupid romantic novel for not particularly bright housewives could be turned into such a masterful movies is something I’ll never be able to figure out. I’ve never seen Shaft, and I’ve never read the novel, but I guess I’ll put the movie on my list. At least I can listen to that guitar.


    • bmj2k November 11, 2018 at 1:01 am #

      I read Jaws back in either the late 70s or early 80s. However, it was my grandmothers Readers Digest condensed version. It was in a volume with a condensed version of All Things Great and Small. So many years later I have no real recollection of the book, other than it had a very different feel than the film, and of course being condensed I have no idea how it was edited. But I did recently buy the book, it is on top of my to read pile. I flipped through and came to the part where Hooper was seducing Brody’s wife over lunch with penis talk. I know there’s also a Mafia subplot. This will be interesting. Unlike Shaft, which was a real downer.


      • Mac of BIOnighT November 14, 2018 at 12:39 am #

        Let me know what you think when you’ve finished it. Just be aware that the shark is as relevant as a parking lot in a story set in the Sahara.


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