The Sellout by Paul Beatty

“I’m high as hell, but not high enough not to know that race is hard to ‘talk about’ because it’s hard to talk about.  The prevalence of child abuse in this country is hard to talk about, too, but you never hear people complaining about it.  They just don’t talk about it.  And when’s the last time you had a calm, measured conversation about the joys of consensual incest?  Sometimes things are simply difficult to discuss, but I actually think the country does a decent job of addressing race, and when folks say, ‘Why can’t we talk about race more honestly?’ What they really mean is ‘Why can’t you niggers be reasonable?’ or ‘Fuck you, white boy.  If I said what I really wanted to say, I’d get fired faster than you’d fire me if race were any easier to talk about.’  And by race we mean ‘niggers,’ because no one of any persuasion seems to have any difficulty talking out-of-pocket shit about Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, and America’s newest race, the Celebrity.”

Well.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout won this year’s Tournament of Books, competing against Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House.  Now that I’ve read both of them, I understand why The Sellout won the judgment by a a vote of 12 to 7.  To me it is definitely the more daring, more original, harder-edged novel.  One judge said that there was not one sentence that he wouldn’t have sold his entire glass eye collection to have written.  I get it now – Beatty has written something so scathing and hilarious that I was simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated after having just read the prologue.51gc1HCCV8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

It’s nearly impossible to explain what this book is “about,” a question I don’t enjoy at any time.  But the story centers on a black man living in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens, California, which is situated on the outskirts of Los Angeles.  Our narrator is called BonBon by Marpessa, the lady he has loved off and on his whole life, but we never learn his real first name.  He was raised and home-schooled by a wacky, kind of abusive single father, who was a sociologist and made BonBon the subject of his racially centered experiments.  They had a house in The Farms, a ten square-block section of Dickens mandated by the city’s charter to be “residential agriculture.”  After his father’s death, he grows various fruits and weed, just selling a little of the latter for gas money.  His renowned satsuma mandarin tree, with its magically delicious oranges, looms large in the story line.

Oh yeah, and he takes a slave.  An old man, the last surviving Little Rascal, named Hominy Jenkins.  And after Dickens is erased from the map, and the signs pointing to the town taken down, he starts segregating the buses and schools in an attempt to get his city back on the map.

The novel operates on this larger than life, bitingly absurd level, where just about anything can happen.  But it’s done in such a smart, hilarious, targeted way that you’re cringing in recognition as you laugh.  It’s like Beatty’s shined a flashlight on all of us Americans, pointing out our ridiculous habits and fears, pointing out how completely NOT post-racial we are.  It’s uncomfortable and thought-provoking like the best satire is supposed to be, and it’s one hell of a ride in the meantime.  I am glad I read it and wish I’d read it sooner.  You better believe I’ll be offering this one to my book group when it’s my turn to host.  Definitely profane, not for the faint of heart, The Sellout is a novel that deserves a wide audience.

 

 

 

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18 thoughts on “The Sellout by Paul Beatty

  1. I would love to read both of these last two Tournament books. And, now I’m thinking that, yes, this would be great for a book club. I’m not so sure what mine would think about it (they can be a little book-wimpy at times), but it would be fun to find out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Naomi, The Turner House was more my “type” of book – very well-written family saga, engaging characters – but the Sellout wins lots of points for originality, humor, and smarts. Both excellent books! Hope you get a chance to read them sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, wow, wow! I cannot imagine falling getting sleepy while reading this novel. Every sentence is s punch to the gut. So honest and raw and jarring.

    I’ve seen The Sellout around a bit, but I hadn’t bothered to read a review until now. I had no idea this book was so bold and controversial. This is definitely my kind of book. I just added it to my Goodreads TBR for future reference.
    Thanks for the recommendation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay, I’m glad to bring this to your attention. It is definitely bold, and it is also incredibly funny. I don’t know that the quote I selected showcases that. Paul Beatty is really talented and I want to read him again for sure.

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  3. Daaaaaamn, that’s a hell of a quote you opened this post with! It’s made me excited about the book — initially the premise sounded like the kind of satire I tend not to love, but when I heard the thing about him being the subject of his father’s experiments, I became more interested. And the writing sounds SO good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The quote you opened with is perfectly selected – this is definitely a book I am putting on my list. I very much appreciate the kind of American satire that doesn’t mince words and doesn’t spare feelings – direct, brutal, ‘real’ as we say in DC 😉 – LOVE IT.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Stefanie, I’m not a huge satire fan myself. This book was a wild ride that I’m glad I took the chance on. Some seriously hilarious moments, truly laugh out loud, but with very smart commentary on race in America. And lots of curse words and body parts, LOL!

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  5. Damn, you started this review of with a bang! Kudos! 🙂 This is such a great quote and if that’s how the rest of the book goes, well, in or a ride. I’m very excited to see how the satire works out and how racism and the postracial are adressed. So glad you reviewed this one and you also reminded me that I still have to read The Turner House. Do you think that one would work well as an audiobook?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, an audio of this would probably have me drive into a wall! But I’m willing to try it. You picked a terrific quote. And the whole book was like that! crazy (good) stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’m not sure how well this would work on audio. As I only listen to audio books in the car (as of right now) I think I would probably be either laughing to hard to concentrate on driving, or I would miss chunks of the narrative.

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