THE SELLOUT by Paul Beatty

From the Back Cover

Born in the “Agrarian Ghetto” of Dickens- on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles- the narrator of THE SELLOUT spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies, and has since resigned himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians.  Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he is told that his father’s work will lead to a memoir that will solve their 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.

Fueled 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 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 front of the Supreme Court.

The work of a comic genius at the top of his game, THE SELLOUT questions almost every received notion about American society.  It is a powerful novel of vital import and an outrageous and outrageously entertaining indictment of our time.

My Thoughts

THE SELLOUT had me thinking (and laughing) from the first page.  I originally wanted to read this one because I was seeking something somewhat political with sarcastic undertones, and THE SELLOUT definitely fits that description.  The prologue absolutely sucked me in, and though I found the rest of the book lacking that sort of charm, THE SELLOUT, with all its absurdities, held my attention from page to page.

“That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book- that we can turn the page and move the fuck on.  But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on.  It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song.  History is the things that stay with you.”

With THE SELLOUT, Paul Beatty manages to comment on an abundance of inequalities African Americans have faced in the last few centuries, including everything from slavery and segregation to modern-day police brutality, with the book still feeling politically current and very much a novel for the time.  Despite winning the U.K.’s 2016 Booker Prize (with Beatty being the first American to do so since the rule change in 2013), THE SELLOUT feels strictly American, with the potential to become one of the defining works of the decade, if not next to Fitzgerald and Melville as a Great American Novel.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of THE SELLOUT is its overwhelmingly unique narration style: first person from the point-of-view of an unnamed narrator referred to as “Me.”  This style made for a very personal reading experience, because I could put myself directly into the shoes of the narrator, but it also feels very universal, because most readers could find a sense of themselves in “Me,” perhaps as Beatty intended.

“Be it ancient Rome or modern-day America, you’re either citizen or slave.  Lion or Jew.  Guilty or innocent.  Comfortable or uncomfortable.”

A mesmerizing reflection on the current state of America, Paul Beatty’s THE SELLOUT is a must-read.  With THE SELLOUT, Beatty creates a novel both humorous and enlightening, both light in tone and serious in subject matter, perfect for readers seeking a funny, thought-provoking, somewhat-political novel.

Further Reading

“Our Thing: An Interview with Paul Beatty” by Chris Jackson, The Paris Review

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