The Sellout

“How come they never describe the white characters in relation to foodstuffs and hot liquids? Why aren’t there any yogurt-colored, egg-shell-toned, string-cheese-skinned, low-fat-milk white protagonists in these racist, no-third-act-having books?” (The Sellout by Paul Beatty)

The Sellout coverSome books are best read indoors. You don’t want to be caught smiling while reading Lolita within 50 feet of a playground, for example. Likewise, you can’t help but wonder if you have permission to laugh aloud at a book about a man on trial for owning a slave and re-segregating a community. The premise is shockingly absurd and the layers – which include finding the lost ghetto of Dickens, growing a satsuma tree, and celebrating a childhood celebrity of a racist TV show – vacillate between pithy, hilarious, and cringe-inducing.

This book is a perfectly executed example of the old writer’s adage: be specific. Everything here – from the characters to the cultural references – is tip-of-the-needle precise. The characters are so idiosyncratic that you have to wonder if anyone so unusual and non-conforming could actually exist, and an unknown piece of slang or pop culture could get a reader lost for paragraphs as Beatty riffs on it ad infinitum. Though the overarching plot gets a bit messy with all of these details floating around (Beaty’s talent is drilling down, not pulling together), you won’t mind the loss of cohesiveness as you revel in the writing.

Recommended Action: Buy Borrow Now – Borrow SometimeAvoid
Length: 304
Ending: hopefuls
Incidental Learning: California, growing marijuana and satsumas, racism
Further Reading: Goes pretty well with other books about race I’ve read lately, Americanah or Things Fall ApartThe excellent writing + messy plotting combination almost reminds me of Where’d you go Bernadettewhich would be a strange follow-up to this book…

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