Thursday, November 22, 2018

Booker Book #51: The Sellout, by Paul Beatty

My book club graciously agreed to read another Booker Prize winner with me. We chose The Sellout by Paul Beatty because it was supposed to be hilarious. It is, but in a very different way than I expected.

This is an over-the-top satire about racism in America. Our protagonist and narrator, Mr. Me, aka Bonbon or The Sellout, was raised in Dickens, a ‘hood outside L.A., by his father, who subjected him to all sorts of psychological experiments, mostly involving racism. Besides being a psychology professor, dad is the neighborhood “N-word whisperer.” Now, as a sympathetic white girl, I don’t think I get to throw the N-word around. If that word, or the f-bomb, makes you cringe, this is not the book for you.

After Prof. Me is shot down by police, the younger Me inherits the farm and the role of whisperer, though he’s not as skilled as dad. Where he comes into his own is when he cooks up a brilliant idea to boost the local school’s scores through the roof. The only problem: it involves segregation.

This novel reads at times like a series of independent essays, riffing on The Little Rascals, the creative cultivation of marijuana and watermelon, gangsters, and any other race-tinged trope that comes to mind. It is an honest but scathing look at the whole shitty system, and everyone’s part in it, including African-Americans’.

This was the first American book to win the Booker prize after it was opened to all books published in English, outside the British commonwealth. If you like it, I also recommend Percival Everett’s Erasure, which includes a send-up of Native Son, and Pym, by Matt Johnson, which includes a racial dystopia in Antarctica. 

Seven books left, two in progress (in print and on audio) and one a re-read. So close!

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