The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Advertisements

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. 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.

Fuelled 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.

Advertisements

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was interesting. Those looking for a review of history, particularly related to the complexities of race perception and experiences from a more U.S. centric point of view, a read for perspective, a snapshot of culture, may come away with a lot from this book. Great discussion piece.

If you’ve experienced an amount of discrimination to the extent portrayed in the book, then this book will be much more relatable for you, but isn’t completely unaccessible if you haven’t or are less aware of the overarching, tangible, and underlying issues.

I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club.

The Story
From relatability standpoint, if you’ve ever experienced the same or similar discrimination, will feel commiserated. I gleaned much, and I also loved the sarcasm, satire, and pop culture references.

Might actually better appreciate the book with a certain amount of knowledge of history and pop culture. Pop culture depicted through 90s pop culture icons and specific events. If the likes of Gene Wilder, nuances of Proposition 8, Twelve Angry Men, Oreos, Buckwheat, California condor, O.J. Simpson, L.A. Lakers, Carole King, Dave Chapelle, and the like ring a certain memory or time in history or depicted influence for you, then you’ll probably have a much easier time with the book reading it as is.

It certainly had me going. Sometimes a nostalgic walk down memory lane which I really appreciated.

It does highlight discriminatory behaviors nuanced and overt. Doesn’t shy away from the more difficult subject matter. There are multiple slurs, words, phrases and events with strong connotation, many portrayed with comedic undertone, like a comedic monologue actually. Revisits longstanding stereotypes. Sort of speaks much to a single generation, but in most encompassing, becomes even much more narrow when you compare to today, when this book was written, being 2015.

Mixed types of satire, whether attitudes, ideas, or just differences amongst people in general, but less satyrical, more bitter approach in the lived experiences of people as they shed light on reality, then suddenly reverts back to even more heapings of satire. Nothing is left on the table material-wise for inclusion in this book.

Speaking for shared and collective experiences as well as oppositional ones, as well the differing audiences that receive them. Sort of a compilation of traumatic representation and experiences, and collective bonding over this trauma and how its been bargained with historically. Exploring the discomfort, irony, and the disarray.

Almost teeters on which story should I tell, couldn’t pick one so I told them all, which felt clever and at the same time sensitive to those within this ill-defined space who have experienced firsthand, bringing validity, making the very point within itself as told by the author. As a result, times I felt the collective, indulgent state of grief embodied in one person may or may not have been as authentic or complete representation of thought since there was absorption from one to another. Self-referential in some circumstances even if less connected to do so. Which is part of the point, but loses emphasis with the indexing of historical references as they are on their own without application as to how the main character in the storyline see himself as separate or as integrated whole. As deep as it went, I’m not sure it went deep enough. That is for you to decide. But within the confines of a more agenda-driven approach, what is idealogical, performance, keeping up with appearances type of way, even in spite of its seemingly open look and honest display.

Much of the overall premise depicted in the changing landscape of L.A. when it comes to race relations. It’s a look at dichotomy as “‘Racism’ in a post-racial world.”

Exhaustive approach. Reference overload. Almost reads like maximizing for SEO search. At times felt like substitute for original thought. Continual rejection of sincerity in intent. Some loss of focus, but in those times also then speaks to a lot of shame.

It points out the irregularities, pointing out flaws in people, flaw in their thinking, following the hypocrisy, adapts the hypocrisy, becomes the hypocrisy, then ridicules, celebrates, and embraces, but never really deconstructs intent or outcome from worldview. I think there was attempt via his character owning slave and background of daddy psychologist to bring some, I’m not sure, maybe some perspective or credibility into the story, but offers up little counter argument or solution, though contrasted, while at the same time lacking investment in his own experience, instead was more focused on drawing outward experiences inward, to make them his own because of lost origin story and because of lost way, which is often the core of the issue.

Shows how there is no unified experience and that divide is ever increasing. The underling story materialized the fragments, disunity, and factions within themselves. Factions upon factions. Division in a shared identity, which is crisis of sorts. Sometimes strong, sometimes ill-defined. Sometimes clinging to the old, sometimes integrated, with integration exemplifying loss of sense of self, creating new identify and this sort of synergistic effect when all identities come together.

Results in absorbing the characterization, along with incompleteness and often coping, sometimes integrating the plausible and logical, other times much dismissive in a passive-aggressive way. Making statements within statements. More of a list of grievances than one unified, personalized story, which the storyline exemplifies but is more about making amends, more of justice served, with comparison of other people groups, but not recognizing the origin difference amongst them comparatively or within themselves to come full circle into what brings meaning to their lives.

Pondering thoughts:
-Does this story propose questions of nature and nurture?
-What is equal and proper representation if not numerically or deep shared story and understanding and experiences?
-Who in family structure can serve as substitute or replacement for what’s been lost and what is achieved?
-One reference to albinos, mostly in metaphor, and often anti-white rhetoric whether skin color or differing culture, but no depiction of those of African descent. I’d be curious where African albinos would fit into his worldview.
-How culture has moved on, evolved, been forgotten, or remembered? Who’s personal or collective responsibility is it to track and maintain?
-How is someone’s reality entertainment and someone’s entertainment is reality apart from satire?
-How does a culture of unity strengthen its own when both are under intense internal and external scrutiny?
-What is progress?
-Is a denial of history a denial of existence even with its purported indifferences and resulting inaccuracies, any less valid or valuable?
-Exploration of mutual understanding and signaling of human interaction, survival out of the unknown and fear.
-Interesting comparison of today, quite clashing even, rifts ever deepening.

I think it could have explored more of territorial differences and conflict in regards to cultural claims and black identity, categories, and subculture. All deconstructed more than what was depicted. Exploring between what’s ideal and what’s authentic. What stays, what goes, what has permission to gain resurgence.

Sometimes felt like an archive of listed top things that someone characteristically does. Reads like a Buzzfeed article.

Sort of adds more to the conversation for sake of conversation, collective review, some reflection and alternative outcome through storyline, than certain enrichment or adding much to the existing body of knowledge as it’s more of a cataloguing of historical references with an attached storyline that plays off of some different schools of thought, though pending on how you’ve come into the book with some personal experiences or knowledge, awareness, and insight.

The Writing
Very picturesque through descriptions, from nuance casual, seamless mention, to overt stereotypes with a lot of pop culture references whether loose or defined perception. The descriptions of L.A. culture were spot on.

View of prose will depend on readership interaction with the book and experience, how you perceive the culture and the standards you’ll be inclined to impose, whether speaking to vernacular, colloquialism, or syntax.

Verbosity. Often reading like scattered thoughts, which was a strength, but also at times the inner monologue, though seemingly authentic to the situations and scenarios with character at hand, feel rehearsed at times.

There was some repetition.

Tone
The tone is established right away, first page. Followed by critiquing everyone and everything. No path to redemption. No appeasement. Ends in much the same way.

A place of personal and collective anger over injustice. Much lamenting. Exhaustive collection of examples. Sometimes avoidant behavior and others with directed energies. Many are named events that without proper context as presented could be under represented, over represented, or misconstrued, at the same time purposeful.

Personal and collective insecurities and identity crisis. Sort of speaks to the hardened heart. Feelings of not belonging, feelings of imposter. Doesn’t explore passion, sincerity, or empathy but more exploration of motive from intent to action to outcome in the worst possible ways whether depiction or actualized in often the most competitive, ill-received form.

At the same time, speaks to more passive acceptance, tolerance, than resilience. When anger stirs, it lashes. Deepest of satire at a fine point. Internal and external assessment of from a more collective point of view.

Sort of esoteric. Grab bag of punches. Some in defense, some in offense. None are neutral. Comprised of worst thoughts and evil, even in the more mild story telling parts. Felt like relentless cage match with foes, but also peers, family, circumstances, and mostly himself.

I would have liked the exploration of self, which has yet to be identified, in its humanistic form.

Not much in the way of depicting legacy, hope, peace, virtue, valor, internal conviction, purpose, meaning, or personal honor, even within main storyline where I expected more given the scenes at hand, even through the lens of satire. Proposes this idea of how others are writing your story.

Characters
Part of his life includes expression of repressed thoughts. Critical of his own peers, critical of response, just hits the highlights within the character’s own life, but we don’t get enough of that.

A great book for discussion.

View all my reviews

Fireside Chat

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: