The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published 3 March 2015
I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed it.
NB: I’ve decided to read all of the books long-listed for the Man Booker this year. Other book blogs do this so it seems like a good idea.
WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT
Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.
Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout 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’ve 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.
Fuelled 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.
This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything.
WHAT I THOUGHT
I thought The Sellout was okay but found it much more disappointing than I expected. The book starts of well. I found the early scenes describing the narrator’s experiences of his slightly unhinged father’s social experiments hilarious. My particular favourite was the scene in which his father re-enacts the Little Albert experiment, by making loud noises while yelling nigger, go home to his baffled infant son. However, for me, satire aside the book felt very hollow and empty at times. Maybe satire isn’t for me? The Sellout is really funny at times, packed with tongue-in-cheek moments and digs at deserving targets. The main issue is that I found all this satire and angry humour exhausting after a while. The story of The Sellout was quite weak and simply couldn’t carry an overload of satire. I’m sure people will love The Sellout but it fell short for me. I’ve never read satire before so maybe this genre isn’t for me? I would recommend The Sellout though to anyone who like satire.