‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beatty (2015) – 289 pages Grade: A
‘The Sellout’ is a wicked comic novel for the twenty-first century. Read it slowly, because just about every sentence is a laugh riot. The sentences take so many twists and turns you wind up in a different place than when you started them. Here is a fine example.
“I seriously doubt that some slave ship ancestor, in those idle moments between being raped and beaten, was standing knee-deep in their own feces rationalizing that, in the end, the generations of murder, unbearable pain, and suffering, mental anguish, and rampant disease will all be worth it because someday my great-great-great-great-grandson will have Wi-Fi, no matter how slow and intermittent the signal is.”
The guy who is telling the story lives in the former town of Dickens which is a suburb of Los Angeles. Dickens was a town which allowed in-city farming, but now someone took the town signs down, and Dickens is no more. Our guy wants to get his Dickensian town back.
Speaking of the people in his neighborhood, our narrator in ‘The Sellout’ says, “For these are a people for whom the phrase, ‘Well, if you put a gun to my head…’ isn’t theoretical.”
The story in ‘The Sellout’ is that our black truck farmer in Dickens wants to bring back slavery on his watermelon and marijuana farm in Dickens with his friend Hominy, one of the black boy stars of the ‘Our Gang’ comedies, as his willing slave. He also wants to re-segregate the schools. Ultimately he must go before the US Supreme Court to argue his case.
In ‘The Sellout’, Beatty uses the N-word (I won’t use it, being white) only quite a lot more times than the 216 times Mark Twain used the N-word in ‘Huckleberry Finn’. Like Twain, Beatty uses the N-word to good purpose.
There is a group in Dickens called the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals whose meetings held at the donut shop “consisted mostly of the members who showed up every other week arguing with the ones who showed up every other month about what exactly ‘bimonthly’ means.”
‘The Sellout’ is driven by a quest for the banned most racist episodes of the ‘Our Gang’ series, the ones that have never been shown on television. When these episodes are found, they prove to be no worse than the others.
“The racism is rampant as usual, but no more virulent than a day trip to the Arizona state legislature.”
I haven’t laughed this much reading a novel since ‘The Good Soldier Schweik’ by Juroslav Hasek. Come to think of it, the townspeople of Dickens have a lot in common with the poor schlump enlisted men in ‘The Good Soldier Schweik’ who must fight and die in World War I for the inbred imbecilic Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Not everyone is going to like the humor in ‘The Sellout’. But if you do like Sarah Silverman as a comedian, I can pretty much guarantee that you will like the novel. Silverman said, “The Sellout is brilliant. Amazing. Like demented angels wrote it.” I pretty much agree with her, but if your sense of humor is more refined or polite, you might not like it.