Title: The Sellout
Author: Paul Beatty
In the Man Booker Winner of this year, Beatty tackled one of the largest issues in the US of A over the last five (hundred) years and undoubtedly many, many years to come, race relations.
Page after page of this biting satire is jam packed with that word white people just can’t say yet still find oddly titillating (probably because we know that word is no longer for us), and shrewd jarring comments on today’s society both black and white. That is not to say though, that it’s inaccessible or heavy. It’s hilarious, in the sick way that the rest of 2016 has been.
Beginning in a courtroom, like all stories of landmark race relations novels, the story focuses on Mr. Me (an African-American urban farmer who grows not just the juiciest watermelons but some of the sweetest ghetto philosophy) as he battles the law with sidebars from his history and evidence floating through the protagonist’s mind. One of my favourite axioms came in this early supreme court scene when Me served us a slice of his sweet sweet philosophy on Abe Lincoln: ” Would he read the paper and see that the Union he saved was now a dysfunctional plutocracy, that the people he freed were now slaves to rhythm, rap, and predatory lending, and that today his skill set would be better suited to the basketball court than the White House?”. Running with this notion, Beatty uses Me to explore the racism of modern day USA which comes down to the African Americans from all sides, including their own.
Unlikely as this all sounds, the novel hangs together in much the same way Me’s hometown does: with a whole lot of humour, homies, and hubris. The last being a pride in the re-establishment of Dickens following being expunged from the maps as yet another LA suburb. The effort to get Dickens reinstated is of course instigated by Me, our in house philoso-farmer, and his unlikely sidekick Hominy Jenkins, a former Little Rascal now entering senility.
However, to brush this book aside as satire alone does another kind of injustice to black America by allowing us to believe racism is dead, these problems laughable, and I’m not sure that’s quite right. Personally, I felt some of the barbs in the novel were razor sharp with politcal commentary rather than mere wit. Beatty isn’t writing to give us a belly laugh, but instead to call out our prejudices however ‘well-intended’ they may be. And he undoubtedly succeeds. Even with those of us who are not American, African- or otherwise.
Beatty also notes that racism isn’t the only problem faced by impoverished society and the rest of us “Like any word that ends in —ess: … I’d rather be called ‘nigger’ than ‘giantess’ any day of the week.”. Again Beatty shows us that this book may be funny, but it’s not a farce or a comedy, it’s a reflection of the world to day of which we should be scared and should try to change. But I’ll get off my soapbox and let you make up your own mind.
TL;DR: An excellent read and definitely a deserving winner of the Man Booker.