"Raised in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens--improbably smack in the middle of downtown L.A.--the narrator of The Sellout resigned himself to the fate of all other middle-class Californians: "to die in the same bedroom you'd grown up in, looking up at the crack in the stucco ceiling that had been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist at Riverside Community College, he spent his childhood as the subject in psychological studies, classic experiments revised to include a racially-charged twist. He also grew up believing this pioneering work might result in a memoir that would solve their financial woes. But when his father is killed in a shoot out with the police, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral and some maudlin what-ifs. Fuelled by this injustice and the general disrepair of his down-trodden hometown, he sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident--the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins, our narrator initiates a course of action--one that includes reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school--destined to bring national attention. These outrageous events land him with a law suit heard by the Supreme Court, the latest in a series of cases revolving around the thorny issue of race in America. The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the most sacred tenets of the U.S. Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality--the black Chinese restaurant"-- "A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court"--
Near the end of the story, Beatty’s narrator, Bonbon Me comments on a black comic who m.c.’s the Dum Dum Donuts open mic nights. He says the comedian “did more than tell jokes; he plucked out your subconscious and beat you silly with it, not until you were unrecognizable, but until you were recognizable.” Beatty has just spent 285 pages doing exactly that with his readers’ every racial attitude and carefully buried prejudice, whether toward blacks, Mexicans, Chinese, or whites.
Perhaps the only way for Americans to approach this difficult subject is with the tools Beatty wields so well: wicked perceptiveness and devastating humor. He slaps them down like a bricklayer troweling thick mortar, building his case brick by brick.
At first I thought his approach was to come at racism obliquely, like an artist using negative space, rendering everything around an object, not the object itself. Draw all the plants and trees, the shape of the dirt patch, the rocks, the pond, the lines of fencing, and every other feature surrounding an elephant and, when you’re done—voilà—out pops the pachyderm.
His descriptions of his southwest Los Angeles neighborhood, his administratively erased home town of Dickens, his father and his friends, with their intellectual floundering and frustrations as members of the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals, “the local think tank.” All seemed designed to produce that elephant.
We meet unforgettable characters, not least Bonbon himself: erudite, fearless, hell-bent on offending and sure to succeed. Bonbon’s father was a psychologist who subjected his son to bizarre experiments growing up, which the boy’s psyche was lucky to survive. His slave (yes) Hominy Jenkins, was a minor celebrity in his youth as a member of the Little Rascals cast; on-again girlfriend and city bus driver, Marpessa, tries to talk sense to him. And more. Much.
However, as the story proceeds, Beatty brings the hammer down. As a joke, Bonbon puts a temporary sign inside a bus that reads “Priority Seating for Whites.” When it’s inadvertently left in place, behavior on the bus becomes exemplary. People are treated with respect. Marpessa says, “Crip, Blood, or cholo, they press the Stop Request button one time and one fucking time only. You know where the kids go do their homework? Not home, not the library, but the bus. That’s how safe it is.” The sign is just the start of a Bonbon crusade. If there’s a word for “this is sooo crazy, it just might work,” Bonbon must have had that word in mind.
The book’s Prologue at the U.S. Supreme Court was a little slow for me, but when Beatty starts to roll, you are in for an amazing, hilarious, heart-breaking ride. Bonbon never breaks character. But at some point, all the comedy flips and you see it for what it is, the mask of tragedy.
It’s also a feast for people who love language. Beatty’s talent as a poet shows up in the rhythm of his prose; in multi-meaning slant rhymes, like the name of his lawyer, Hamilton Fiske; in direct rhymes, like the reference to his father’s farm, “forty acres and a fool”; and his imagery, “he was unpaid-electricity-bill dark.”
I’m sure reading this book in print would be transformative, with the advantage of being able to go back and reread and pause to reflect. Yet, Prentice Onayemi’s narration of the audio version was pitch-perfect. His Hominy addresses Bonbon as “Massa,” with just the right combination of obsequiousness and insolence; Foy Cheshire and the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals bloviate convincingly; Marpessa keeps her wits about her. You see each of them in front of you, just like you cannot avoid seeing the elephant in the middle of our collective living room.
Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens - on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles - the narrator resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that have been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.
Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident - the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins - he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.
After a while the novel began, for this reader, to become extremely tiresome to the point of utter splenetic prose. What plot there was lacked sufficient direction and a sense of purpose. This resulted from repetition of a few basic themes established very early on. At times it even felt like it had degenerated into a series of loosely connected rants and personal grievances in the form of chapters. It became a very trying read.
The writing began with a certain authority; it was compelling and convincing, however as the narrative progressed it did not pick up any momentum but lingered on similar ideas and stayed very stationary. Some of the comic moments seemed forced as the narrator repeated themes over and again. The Sellout won The Man Booker Prize in 2016 and despite my acherontic experience reading the book I can see why. It is a very timely piece, addressing many of the problems blacks face in a country that has supposedly moved on from its original sin of slavery. Segregation has ended, racism is officially at an all-time low, but the issues remain.
That’s more-or-less the story, but for this reader the best aspect of The Sellout is Beatty’s language, sentence-by-sentence, even word-by-word, instead of the plot. There are literally hundreds of puns, non-sequiturs, and squeaky analogies, sometimes literally piled up on top of one another: “These are the times that fry one’s souls.” “Forty acres and a fool.” In spite of that, the satirical style in which it was told offset much of what the book attempted to do. The satire in this novel is savage and the black idiom is difficult to follow for someone unfamiliar with it. I can only recommend this novel to those readers who are ready for a difficult reading experience that may or may not be worth the trip. It was not for me.
I don't know.
I think that the writing is wonderful. I just read a couple of mainstream reviews and they don't talk about the writing, the language. I think that's a shame.
The Sellout is funny and it is provocative & I'm not sure what to think & what I think is that he's
It faltered some as it went on, and I decided not to read Slumberland, at least not right now.
Every sentence is a work of sarcastic, hilarious art, but Zimmerman is right that it can be very unrelenting.
NPR sums up nicely, "The plot is clearly absurd, but it has to be — in an era where people still talk about "post-racial America" unironically, it's hard not to either laugh or cry at how bizarre the national conversation on race has become. And while there is plenty of real sadness in The Sellout, it's tempered by Beatty's outrageously hilarious mockery of politics, entertainment, and pretty much everything else. It's a risky book unconcerned about offending readers, which is a rare thing indeed in today's easily outraged culture. This book won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Okay, it ran out of steam a little at the end, maybe, but who cares. It's like an album of music -- not every track is the same, there are slower tracks and faster tracks and tracks you put on repeat, and tracks you pay less attention to. The Sellout still is the best book I've read all year. Masterpiece.
Of the six contenders, The Sellout was the title I
The Sellout is the story of a black man in California who takes a slave and makes many efforts to segregate his community. It's a poignant satire that addresses racial identity and its place in film, law, education, and society in general. While many of the observations Beatty makes are difficult to swallow, they are nonetheless insightful. All this is wrapped in a tragicomedic story dripping with sarcasm. Again, not my thing, but I was actually kind of liking this. Although I'm not well-versed in the genre, I think it bears considerable similarity to the work of David Foster Wallace or Adam Levin.
By the end, however, I was exhausted. The irony does wear thin in the final chapters and I believe it wouldn't have hurt this novel to have been more tightly trimmed in the last seventy pages.
I think it's unlikely Beatty will take the Man Booker Prize this year. As I stated in my review of Eileen, the Prize will be heavily scrutinized when it finally selects an American author, so I think the year that it finally does will be a year when the American selection is by far the best. Though I have yet to read any of the non-American contenders, I'm confident that one or two will be better candidates. With its relevance to current events and its more tightly woven story, I think The Sellout stands a better chance than Eileen, but I wouldn't put my money on either. Then again, Bob Dylan just won the Novel Prize for Literature, so all bets are off.
The way Me was raised--homeschooled by his psychologist father using a black-centric curriculum and cruel experiments on his own son just made me sad. I
What is funny--his descriptions of LA. Surfing as a black man in Redondo vs Venice vs Malibu. The blue neighborhood signs. The Don streets. The busses. Gentrification. Beatty knows LA (but he lives in NY per the book jacket), and he can get right to the point.
If you keep up with the news and are interested in the racial issues affecting lives in this country, this is a very different 'take' that you can't miss. It's the rare book that can not only make you laugh out loud but also cause you to think deeply about an uncomfortable subject.
Beatty writes with such verve that his enthusiasm often gets the better of the narrative. And while that is very fun for about 50 pages, it begins to get tiresome eventually. The narrative is at best ramshackle and you feel when you read it that pretty much anything could happen. That’s a good thing. But that too begins to wear. And despite the closure that the protagonist claims he seeks, there may be no viable closure for the issue of race in America. But as here, with enough inventiveness and hope and determination, there is what will stand in for closure for a time.
Not “uproariously funny” as some back-cover blurbs would have you believe. But quirky and thought-provoking and periodically, yes, very funny. Gently recommended.
As a white girl reading this, maybe the book isn't written FOR me but I think this book is written for everyone. It's like BonBon wondering "What exactly is OUR thing?" Saying "our thing" enforces the stereotypes and categories that racism started. A reader saying this book is for me/not for me or my thing/not my thing is exactly what BonBon and Beatty are talking about. There is so much ASSUMING going on. In the world right now, justifiable defensiveness based on assumed racism BUT also assuming what someone's "things" should be just because of someone's skin color or cultural background. But I think every book should be for everyone to open eyes to all other perspectives and to have as much empathy for everyone else as BonBon has. The final page says it all. 'The Sellout' should be universal and I'm so thankful that Beatty has written it. Because of a certain newly prominent person, I vowed to devote more reading time than ever for books written by and about people of color. This book was a start that probably can't be topped. I couldn't see any other book winning the 2016 Morning News Tournament of Books even before reading it. Most of Beatty's books are here waiting for me on the shelves next to Fran Ross's 'Oreo'. I can't wait.
Does this sound like the outline of some kind of bizarre update of To Kill a Mockingbird? Well, it is hardly that. Instead, The Sellout is a wildly comical satire on the fractured state of race relations today, one of the most deadly serious topics I can imagine. Paul Beatty does a remarkable job of filling the tale with a dizzying number of historical and cultural references while taking absolutely no prisoners when examining the stereotypes and hypocrisies that exist on all sides of the issue. Along the way, the reader is treated to many laugh-out-loud scenes while being exposed to more creative uses of the n-word (and, trust me, there are a lot of them) than you would think possible. Although its underlying plot is a little thin, this is a book that delivers a powerful message. It is also a novel that really could only have been written by an author who is (1) black, (2) deeply insightful, and (3) hysterically funny. Fortunately, Beatty is all of those things.