The Sellout | Paul Beatty’s Tragicomedy about Racism in America

imagesThe Sellout by Paul Beatty is about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court. Born in the ‘agrarian ghetto’ of Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, the narrator of the The Sellout was 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. 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.

The Sellout was praised by critics for its humour and satirical content. It challenges the 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.

Excerpt
“We lived in Dickens, a ghetto community on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, and as odd as it might sound, I grew up on a farm in the inner city. Founded in 1868, Dickens, like most California towns except for Irvine, which was established as a breeding ground for stupid, fat, ugly, white Republicans and the chihuahuas and East Asian refugees who love them, started out as an agrarian community. The city’s original charter stipulated that “Dickens shall remain free of Chinamen, Spanish of all shades, dialects, and hats, Frenchmen, redheads, city slickers, and unskilled Jews.” However, the founders, in their somewhat limited wisdom, also provided that the five hundred acres bordering the canal be forever zoned for something referred to as “residential agriculture,” and thus my neighborhood, a ten-square-block section of Dickens unofficially known as the Farms was born. You know when you’ve entered the Farms, because the city sidewalks, along with your rims, car stereo, nerve, and progressive voting record, will have vanished into air thick with the smell of cow manure and, if the wind is blowing the right direction-good weed. Grown men slowly pedal dirt bikes and fixies through streets clogged with gaggles and coveys of every type of farm bird from chickens to peacocks. They ride by with no hands, counting small stacks of bills, looking up just long enough to raise an inquisitive eyebrow and mouth: “Wassup? Q’vo?” Wagon wheels nailed to front-yard trees and fences lend the ranch-style houses a touch of pioneer authenticity that belies the fact that every window, entryway, and doggie door has more bars on it and padlocks than a prison commissary. Front porch senior citizens and eight-year-olds who’ve already seen it all sit on rickety lawn chairs whittling with switchblades, waiting for something to happen, as it always did.”

48574434-cached“The first 100 pages of [Paul Beatty’s] new novel, The Sellout, are the most caustic and the most badass first 100 pages of an American novel I’ve read in at least a decade. I gave up underlining the killer bits because my arm began to hurt . . . [They] read like the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility . . . The jokes come up through your spleen . . . The riffs don’t stop coming in this landmark and deeply aware comic novel . . . [It] puts you down in a place that’s miles from where it picked you up.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Swiftian satire of the highest order . . . Giddy, scathing and dazzling.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

Paul Beatty is the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, 2016. He is the of three novels— Slumberland, Tuff, and The White Boy Shuffle—and two books of poetry: Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He is the editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor. He lives in New york.

The Sellout – Wall Street Journal Best Books of the Year, NPR Best Book of the Year, Hurston/Wright LEGACY Award – Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Awards – Nominee, National Book Critics Circle Awards Winner, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year, Man Booker Prize Nominee, NYT Outstanding Books of the Year, New Yorker Best Books of the Year, San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, Boston Globe Best Books of the Year, Time Out New York Best Books of the Year, Buzzfeed Best Books of the Year, Man Booker Prize Winner, Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year.

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