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[805] The Sellout – Paul Beatty

1carered

“I understand now that the only time that black people don’t feel guilty is when we’ve actually done something wrong, because that relieves us of the cognitive dissonance of being black and innocent, and in a way the prospect of going to jail becomes a relief.” (Prologue, 18)

This book is incendiary and funny. In a time when race in America is at an absolute boil, Paul Beatty comes along with a book so bold and straight-forward, tackling all the racial taboo and faultlines. To the conservative mind it is repugnant, but to the liberal it’s brilliant.

In the nutshell The Sellout is about a young black man born in the “agrarian ghetto” of fictional Dickens, a neighborhood on the southern outskirts of LA, who becomes a farmer and weed dealer. He ends up before the Supreme Court because he is reinstating slavery, at least in his own house, and segregating the local middle school, erecting around town signs that scream “COLORED ONLY.” Son of a psychologist, “Bonbon” has a weird childhood in which he was subjected to many social experiments studying blacks’ behavior.

When I was young I had a reputation for being extremely lucky. I never suffered from the typical ghetto maladies . . . Hoodlums would jump on my friends but leave me alone. The cops somehow never got around to putting my name on a scare card or my neck in a choke hold. (Ch.9, 124)

When Dickens is removed from the map of California, Bonbon aka “Me” goes on a campaign to have it reinstated with the help of Hominy Jenkin, an erstwhile chattel who is the last surviving Little Rascal, who used to perform racial skits. He volunteers to be the narrator’s slave. In addition to segregate the local middle school, he creates facade of a fake charter school populated by smiling white kids that he paints across the street from the real public school, inspiring a race to racially segregated achievement.

What really makes this book shine is Beatty’s constant barrage of asides that takes precedence over the whole plot. His wicked wit, bold racial discourse give the book it’s momentum. The rich asides, so full of racial slurs and innuendos, are very incendiary and provocative. They touch on the hilarious vignettes about nearly every black stereotype imaginable. Within the humor, Beatty encourages the reader to re-examine the preconceptions of race and look at race relations in America in a new light. The book by no means suggests that black Americans were better off in the eras of segregation and slavery; instead, Beatty argues that the idea that racial issues are a thing of the past is a misguided and very detrimental concept. He calls for accountability and open discussion, dealing with inequality, prejudice, and discrimination in a honest way.

304 pp. Picador. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

Reading “The Sellout”

1carered

The opening paragraph, satirical, provocative and funny, decides the purchase of this book. The book looks like a madhouse of insight into race in America.

This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I’ve never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store. Never boarded a crowded bus or subway car, sat in a seat reserved for the elderly…

These are some of the most snarky and electric opening lines. I’m sold immediately.

Reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout

1carered

One book leads to another—it’s almost true. I was looking for The Nazi and the Barber, a hilarious Edgar Hilsenrath novel people have been telling me for years to read, but found Paul Beatty’s The Sellout because an article on Edgar Hilsenrath’s book at the bookstore. It was one of those banned books—banned in Germany for a long time—that addresses the subject matter with a frankness, not to be conflated with honesty. It’s one of those books that makes reader flinch the whole way through. This “flinching” feeling is what motivates Paul Beatty to write The Sellout.

The subject matter that makes Beatty constantly flinch is racism. His first experience of it was second grade, when a kid called him the “N” word. They got into a little fight. He went back to the day care center, pulled out the dictionary, and looked up the word. “I don’t think things were ever good. Anywhere, any place, any time. It’s not so much about color or anything else. There are some things that can be gained by convincing yourself things are good, so I understand why people do it.” Political correctness is not to be confused with goodness.

Beatty says one of the biggest problems is people tend to be accusatory. Pointing fingers and calling names. They skewer any opportunity of a discussion. The one thing that could be solved is some justice could be meted out. People can at least go to trial