The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Sellout is one of the most entertaining and original books I’ve read in a long time. it came into my library via a book club I belonged to and was definitely one of the highlights during my few years of membership in that club. (I didn’t get thrown out of the club, but being childless and not inclined to participate in a potluck, I eased myself out of that club and into this one. In the Selfish Book Club I can now enjoy my books from a reclining position as God and nature intended.)

Being white, I feel unqualified to comment and even sheepish about enjoying black cultural highlights such as Spike Lee movies, knowing the writer/actor/director has disdain for provincial, moderately educated, middle class white women like me. I take Denzel Washington’s scowls at the Oscars personally. I don’t know much about Paul Beatty, but his writing is wickedly smart and funny, so I’d imagine he’s in the Spike/Denzel camp of blacks that don’t court the approbation of white girls in book clubs.

There’s a laugh out loud sentence on almost every page. I especially cracked up over character Foy Cheshire’s rewrites of classic novels, for example, Huckleberry Finn becomes The Pejorative-Free Adventures and Intellectual  and Spiritual Journeys of African American Jim and his Young Protagee, White Brother Huckleberry Finn as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit.

The accolades for the book call Beatty a comic genius and the book “outrageously entertaining,” and I completely agree. Main character and narrator, the Sellout himself, lives on an inner city farm and grows square “artisanal” watermelons and a strain of pot called “Anglophobia.” He’s also perhaps the lone African American man who is lousy in bed, a detail I thought hilarious and somehow brave to include (most men are allergic to any mention of bedroom incompetence).

I’d love to read passages from The Sellout aloud to my friends, but the liberal use of the N-word throughout the book would force me to redact so severely it wouldn’t have the impact the author intended.

Beatty, after becoming the first American to win the Man Booker prize for this novel in 2016, stated that this was a hard book to write. He also claims that he is surprised people call The Sellout a comic novel and that he does not consider himself a satirist. Seriously?!? Well, to me it was super funny. I also felt like there was a lot of love behind the writing; although Beatty nails the details of African American racial identity and injustice he also deeply understands human nature and the book has a strangely forgiving feeling.

Or maybe that’s just how this middle class white girl reads it.

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