This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series.
Disclaimer right at the top: Kindly excuse me for all the references to race and stereotypes to follow but the blame is not entirely on me as much as it should be on Paul Beatty. From Prologue to the closure, there is no escape from the references of Blacks nor is it from the satire.
Book #: 31
Title: “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty
Paul Beatty’s ” The Sellout” is arguably one of the best books I have read this year. Talk about the experimentation in the style of writing – this book takes it to a different level in terms of satire- the brilliant satire on every topic under the sun. Be it macroeconomics, parenting, tattoos, logos, literacy, racism, egotism and so on, the list just goes on. The first time I read “The diver’s clothes lie empty” by Vandela Vida, a full book written in the second person, I was amused to the most. This work by Paul Betty just puts the writing on a different space altogether (in terms of amusement it creates in reading).
The narrator (referred to as ‘Me’ in initial court sequences, ‘Bonbon’ by his girlfriend and ‘Sellout’ by the intellectual folks he is fighting against) provides you with an opinion of everything from the eyes of a Nigger (if I am allowed to use the reference) and the take is absolutely satirical- the level beyond the best of stand-ups.
Tip for upcoming stand-ups: Pick the paragraph – throw in some accent- add your swag bit – ta da you have some excellent laughable material.
Every black male, irrespective of shade or political affiliation- secretly thinks he can do one of three things better than anyone in the world: play basketball, rap, or tell jokes.
If you believe that there is something missing from the list above, it is all through the book – weed- the references sometimes poetic but most times gross. As the reality hits with stereotyped references to “all Blacks are stoners” and “we Whites hit highs too but we do it behind the super soft silk curtains bought through capitalist suppression of these Afro-Americans.”
In Paul Beatty’s words “No matter how heroin or R Kelly you have in your system, you absolutely cannot fly”
As from an agricultural standpoint, “weed is not a cash crop, but more like a gas money one” and then follows it up with few wise words about how to get a girl going with an effective description of weed you smoke only to reutilize the techniques you used in through-beds in schools.
One of my favorite bits in the book comes early in the book and drives the story where he describes how the city “Dickens” vanished from the map-
No Loud send-offs, similar to the Soviet Union during the Civil War atomic accident by atomic accident. In the wee hours of night, after the community boards, homeowner associations, and real estate moguls banded together and coined descriptive names for nondescript neighborhoods, someone would bolt a large glittery Mediterranean- blue sign high up on the telephone pole”
That is all it took. The city now wakes up in Crest View, La Cienega Heights or Westdale. Dickens didn’t even have to go through all the trouble- the welcome sign boards are gone and the people now belong to anywhere. But no one has time to give any f-words about.
The narrator has set himself up for three major ambitions – first to bring back the city of Dickens on the map; second to create reverse race-based segregation in schools so as to value them separately than the whites and third to get hold of All-Black “The Little Rascals.”
Talking about unorthodox utility centers, you find them aplenty in this book – like the Dum Dum Donuts serving as a center for macroeconomics discussions related to Keynesian principles, the BDSM club fulfilling the role of the mental asylum in treating a “worthless black life” for his happiness.
But amidst all the satire, smiles, and acknowledgments, there lies the life of a black, early age orphaned youth in the modern America trying to get his way through the nuances and hypocrisies that rust fill all those lives chasing the green 75% cotton-25% linen filled dollar bill.
The only drawback in this galvanizing take on racism satire is how the second half is shaped. The charm of experimentation lets go of the essence for quite a few pages- the story is stuck on a single incident and the pace of narration drops down rather dramatically only to be revived in the closing phases. Then it is mostly a downslope until the closing section where a courtroom drama is set up to resurrect but with little success.
“What exactly is Black?” as questioned by French author Jane Ganet.
“Blackness is a state of mind” as often an essential rapper’s lyric
It is like a tumor that grows in the minds of all colored folks. (Indian caste system is no exclusion, neither is Chinese nor is Pilipino, no escape from it).
It evolves in multiple stages: Stage 1- Neophyte Negro; Stage 2- Capital B Black; Stage 3- Race Transcendalism and Stage 4- Unmitigated Blackness.
Overall, Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” leaves you with immense knowledge about anything and everything under the sun, in addition to the wisdom of surviving in a downtrodden society. You finish off with a serenity and introspection about racism once you step out of the literary blend of Chaplin-isque satire. It is right in front of your eyes- be offended or laugh off.
Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series:
“The North Water” by Ian McGuire
“His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet