Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: "The Sellout" by Paul Beatty

The Sellout, the fourth novel by writer and poet Paul Beatty, is one of the most audacious, brutal satires I have ever read. It doesn’t just pick apart many of the sacred cows of race and ideas of equality in this country, it eviscerates them with a rusty backhoe in a way that is eye opening and hysterical. It speaks to both sides of the arguments on race in this country, two sides which I won’t name here, but we all know which ones they are, which is only to this books advantage; if it was on one side, it could be construed as deeply racist and repugnant, if it was on the other, it would be a plain tired old screed we have heard time and time again, spoken out of habit and not a need to make a desperate social change. I’m curious to see what other people will think of this book, if it ever gets a wide audience, which it so rightly deserved. I hope people can look past the surface of many of its events, which read like Spike Lee’s directorial version of Birth of a Nation, and get over their possible feelings of disgust and horror, and see the book for what it really is: a timely book on race, written with gusto, humor and lots and lots of balls, about how both sides of the racial divide use ideas to their own personal gain, and how far away that drives us from true equality. The main character of this book is an unnamed black man living in the agrarian ghetto of Dickens in Southern Los Angles. As the book opens up, he is about to enter the Supreme Court to plead his case, and we slowly find out what his case is and why he is pursuing it over the next hundred, funny, despicable and begrudgingly truthful pages. We learn about this man’s life, whose last name is Me, and why he does what he does in the name of his town. We find out about his social scientist father, who subjected him to a number of race based experiments to prove the existence of racism, some of which are quite hilarious until we realize how depressing they are. After his father’s death at the hands of the LAPD, and finding out his promise of savings was a lie his father told him, he begins his crusade to not only bring back segregation, but slavery as well. This book is not for the easily offended, with scenes involving the last surviving cast member of the Little Rascals. Hominy Jenkins, as Me’s willing slave getting whipped and called names being among the book’s most potent images. But what this book says about race for both black people and white people is from Beatty’s heart, and will make many people hate this book for the wrong reasons. By the end of the book, after a shooting and the ruling, I felt I had stood witness for something special: a new kind of comic voice, willing to take ideas that many humans hold sacred and true, and completely destroy them for our own sake.

Rating: 5/5

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