Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

We read The Sellout by Paul Beatty for our book club this month. I didn't get to go to book club, so I can't tell you much about how other people reacted to it, but I definitely had mixed feelings.

This is biting satire. I'm not sure I found it "funny," although I did frequently find it thought-provoking. It begins with a black man before the Supreme Court on charges of slavery and it's a flashback so that you can see how this relatively normal, educated man ends up attempting segregation and slavery in order to actualize change and fulfillment for the citizens of his town.  It's absurd and totally on the nose.

On the bright side, there was so much culture and history I learned by reading this book. Post-it notes are busting out of the side of the copy I borrowed from the library. Beatty is often hilarious - I frequently imagined a stand-up comic using the material on stage. I did chuckle an awful lot.

"He...belonged to that scary subset of black lycanthropic thinkers I like to refer to as "wereniggers." BY day, wereniggers are erudite and urbane, but with ever lunar cycle, fiscal quarter, and tenure review their hackles rise, and they slip into their floor-length fur coats and mike stoles, grow fangs, and schlep down from their ivory towers and corporate boardrooms to prowl the inner cities, so that they can howl at the full moon over drinks and mediocre blues music...Normally I try to avoid wereniggers at all costs. It's no the fear of being intellectually ripped to shreds that frightens me most, it's the cloying insistence on addressing everyone, especially people they can't stand, as Brother So-and-so and Sister This-and-that." (page 96)

I laughed out loud for a full minute.

On the other hand, though, this was just too much of a bitter pill for me to swallow. I think fiction on race can be pointed and hard to read, but worthwhile, but after a couple hundred pages of this, I just wanted to crawl under the covers and never come out again. Maybe that's the point?  I don't know. I just didn't find it enjoyable to read.

It is definitely excellent writing.  So if satire is your jam, go for it. 

Slang terms I didn't know: kine bud, cholo school, skrill, and Soreno.  I should be embarrassed, but I'm not.

Pop culture references I had to look up: golliwog, Stepin Fetchit, Guy Laroche, jubo, Kunta Kinte, Mr. Green Jeans, Slicker Smith, Chattanooga Brown, Beulah "Mammy" McQueenie, Kara Walker, Killer of Sheep, Lee Morgan, Kathleen Battle, Basquiat, Fran Ross, and Johnny Otis.

Other things I that went on post-it notes: PW Botha, Luftwaffe, Panglossian, mercurochrome, varnas, Wannsee Conference, and Arschloch.

I'm probably a better person for having read this novel.

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