Title: The Sellout
Author: Paul Beatty
Award: The Man Booker Prize 2016
Goodreads Blurb: “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. Fueled 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.”
WARNING: SPOILERS (TO A DEGREE)
First off, do not read this book if you hate slavery/the idea of slavery being used. I don’t mean reading about the past but it being active in the present. The majority of this book revolves around that and is basically the whole conflict. I am not saying that I do enjoy that but that I could see people being sensitive to the topics included in the book. So don’t complain if you choose to read the book and don’t like it for that reason. You’re welcome.
Having read the blurb multiple times before purchasing this book, I admit that I expected a different plot. A brief summary is that the narrator is sent to trial for using slavery and racial segregation in the present time. The main explanation for the psychological damage that he has is because of his dead father who was a sociologist. As in a sociologist who ran tests on his child – yes, like many horror movies/Law and Order episodes. It was an interesting idea but didn’t really explain it all. I think that if the narrator had more controlling characteristics or better expressed his damaged childhood to some of the other characters, there would have been more drama that kept the book interesting throughout.
“Sometimes I wish Darth Vader had been my father. I’d have been better off. I wouldn’t have a right hand, but I definitely wouldn’t have the burden of being black and constantly having to decide when and if I gave a shit about it. Plus, I’m left-hand.”
Now for the good, bad and could have been improved things about the book.
- Little Rascals. The narrator’s friend/slave, Hominy Jenkins, was one of the boys in Little Rascals. The character himself caused a lot of unnecessary confusion for me and at times caused the story to drag. However, the characteristic of being a Little Rascal added a quirkiness which lead to humor towards the end of the book. Do I wish that Paul Beatty hadn’t made that choice? No. Do I think that he could have made the character a stronger individual with being a Little Rascal just a small thing on the side? Yes.
- Length. Overall, I don’t think that the book should have been shorter nor longer. Yes, some parts could have been elaborated but the timeframe chosen allowed each character, event, and conflict to have a decent amount of coverage. I do admit though that with the book being split into five parts, I did get tired in the middle. At times it seemed as if he was just adding rambles to the story, meanwhile I was eagerly waiting for the trial. I do admit though that I appreciated how much Beatty went into depth when describing certain events and childhood memories. But at the same time, I felt let down when the big event, the trial, wasn’t fully discussed and left the story feeling unresolved.
- Location and time. The location and time is California in the present day. However, I feel like this choice of timing causes a lot of confusion and weakens the story. There is constant conflict between the narrator, his slave, the woman that he sees (don’t want to spoil too much) and his town mainly for this reason. Below are a few examples:
- The narrator smokes weed while in the court room and shares it with his lawyer. Really? As if that would happen in the present time!
- The narrator sells weed to the people in his town, who don’t know what it is, and uses different names for it. Seriously? A town in California? Not knowing what weed is?
- The town agrees to follow his idea with segregating the town. Yes this would be understandable if it was a town full of racist people but in present day, wouldn’t there be at least one person fighting against it?
- The first step for the segregation is the local bus. Bit controversial (Rosa Parks).
Could have been worked on:
- Not enough written about the trial. I started this book believing that the trial would be a big part of it. However, it was mainly only the prologue and wasn’t strongly resolved at the end of the book. The book didn’t end on a cliffhanger but it just had a “Really? That’s it?” type of ending. I wish that Beatty had explained more about how it all ended and how the town was truly effected.
- Weak use of flashbacks. A large part of this book focuses on the narrators past relationships and the reasoning for the main characters being the way that they are. At times it was used strongly and added more emotion to the story, especially the parts about the father. But with that being said, I think that Beatty could have used it more for certain events and characters, such as the father’s death and Hominy’s “passion” for slavery and segregation.
Overall, it was a good book and I don’t regret reading nor purchasing it. If this review appealed to you then definitely read the book. However, if it doesn’t – save your money and buy a different one.
Would I suggest this book to a friend?: Yes
Would I read another book by Paul Beatty?: Yes
Goodreads Rating: 3/5