The Sellout, Paul Beatty, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015, 289 pp
Summary from Goodreads: 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.
As my readers and followers of this blog know, I am a tough customer when it comes to satire. So score one for Paul Beatty because his book is excellent satire concerning race, class, Los Angeles, and American life, from the viewpoint of a Black male.
I am also maybe weird or challenged when it come to humor, whether it be in the form of literature, movies, TV shows or stand up comedy. I don't always seem to find the same things funny as other people do. Back in my indie singer/songwriter days I played more than my share of open mics. An amateur bad song is always cringe worthy but nothing is more painful than a stand up comedian who isn't funny.
Score another one for Paul Beatty. He is consistently funny, almost as abrasive as Richard Pryor, whom he seems to be channeling, and he keeps it up for page after page. In fact, by the time I finished reading the prologue, I worried that he was going to riff like that for the whole book.
He returns to many more comedic routines throughout the novel but he also tells a story of a guy who was raised in a Los Angeles ghetto by highly questionable parenting, makes somewhat inept attempts to put things right in his neighborhood, and most importantly, gets away with it.
I liked that he calls out anyone who thinks we are living in a post-racial era in America. I liked that one of his characters was famous in the hood for having been on the Little Rascals, a show I watched religiously as a kid. I liked and admired the whole book except for some lag in the middle which made me clean the house for a whole day instead of read.
I am a white, middle-class, female American. Probably this book wasn't written for me. I feel a little weird trying to review it. I have a sneaking suspicion that Paul Beatty wrote the book for himself (not a bad thing) and is happy and surprised that so many people are reading and praising it. The Sellout won the Rooster in The 2016 Tournament of Books as well as the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. Most of the reviews I have seen are written by white males. Perhaps African-Americans don't need to read this book because they are living it!
In closing, I want to recommend my favorite satirical novel written by a female African-American: The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall. It is her retelling of Gone With the Wind.
(The Sellout is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)