Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book 11: The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Good Lord, was I ever not expecting this book. Despite winning the Man Booker prize, the Sellout was not on my radar at all. (I say this as if I can recite the last twenty Man Booker prize winners.) My uncle's brother was reading it over Thanksgiving, and then my mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas. I was like, eh, ok, well, I guess I'll get to this sometime when the library is slow to fulfill one of my holds.

The Sellout is the most biting, most open-eyed, and funniest critique of racism in America that I have ever run across.

There is no way for me to adequately review this book. It is so incredibly dense, so layered in its writing, that anything I say will just take up time you should spend getting a copy of this book. The narrator - never properly named, in what I assume is a nod to the Invisible Man, which I should probably re-read at some point in my life - re-segregates his hometown in an attempt to get his town back on the map, and owns a slave. It's just the weirdest set-up. Here, stop reading me and read some of the Sellout.

In all its years of existence, Dum Dum Donuts has never been robbed, burglarized, egged, or vandalized. And to this day, the franchise's art deco facade remains graffiti and piss-stain free. Customers don't park in the handicapped spot. Bicyclists leave their vehicles unlocked and unattended, stuffed neatly into the rack like Dutch cruisers parked at an Amsterdam train station. There's something tranquil, almost monastic, about the inner-city donut shop. It's clean. Spotless. The employees are always sane and respectful. Maybe it's the muted lighting or the bright decor, whose color scheme is designed to be emblematic of a maple frosted with rainbow sprinkles. Whatever it is, my father recognized the donut shop was the one place in Dickers where niggers knew how to act.

(My apologies - in my classroom, I always sub in the word "gentleman" for the n-word, but vulgarity is so central to Beatty's novel that I'd be doing a disservice by editing here.)

[My father] sat at the table nearest to the ATM and said aloud, to no one in particular, "Do you know that the average household net worth for whites is $113,149 per year, Hispanics $6,325, and black folks $5,677?"

"For real?"

"What's your source material, nigger?"

"The Pew Research Center."

Motherfuckers from Harvard to Harlem respect the Pew Research Center, and, hearing this, the concerned patrons turned around in their squeaky plastic seats as best they could, given that donut shop swivel chairs swivel only six degrees in either direction. 

Beatty sustains this tone and pace for nearly 300 pages. I can imagine reading this book over and over again and never discovering - or truly appreciating - every joke, reference and pointed observation in it. And, of course, jokes are nothing without an actual meaning behind them; and no one escapes blame in the Sellout. Race relations are everyone's problem in this country, and everyone is accountable in Beatty's reckoning.

The Sellout is currently one of the five books you can vote for in the One Book, One New York event that the NYC government is promoting right now. I actually cast my vote for Between the World and Me (maybe I'm wary of satire being misinterpreted? maybe I just really appreciate Coates's reasoned approach to the world?) but the more people that read the Sellout, the better the world will be.

1 comment:

Chloe Pinkerton said...

Can I borrow it? It's on my list for sure!