Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Paul Beatty

IMG_2088Paul Beatty’s 2016 Man Booker winning book, ‘The Sellout’ is actually an outrageous rant on ‘post-racial’ America. By structure it is barely passable as a novel. Here, in a tone that’s somewhere between hilarious and satirical, Beatty points to all things that are racial in the United States at the precise time when – ironically – the first black president of the US was in office. Lightning pen in hand, Beatty demolishes the myth of Integration like Darth Vader severing Skywalker’s arm (the nod to Star Wars is there!)

The book has a meagre and absurd storyline. As I said, for a large part the novel is actually a series of savage, bizzare and humorous outages on Unmitigated Blackness, as he calls it. But the lack of a coherent plot doesn’t bother you because of the vividness of the verbal broadsides and a myriad incisive allusions Beatty makes in half-jest simply blow your imagination.

‘Bonbon’ Me is a “farm nigger” (In his own words – oh, Beatty overwhelms you with the N-word, more often than plaits on an African woman’s hairdo, don’t you worry about me!), born to a half-mad professor of behavioral psychology and grows up home-schooled, doubling as a guinea pig to his dad’s many social experiments on Racism. That he survives this psychological trauma and ends up as a Camus-quoting, fruit growing, clear-headed maverick can be attributed to his high quality home grown weed varieties which he calls with whacky & imaginative names (code red, Ataxia, Anglophobia!) and on which he’s perennially high.

So, after his dad is shot by LAPD, the hero comes up with a bizarre plan to bring back his blackest black ghetto town (Murder capital of the world) named Dickens (oh, irony! Take that Jim!) which has disappeared under the conspiratorial mushrooming of white suburbs around. He decides to revive it by ‘reverse-segregation’ and ends up being tried in the Supreme Court. I won’t give away more spoilers than these.

The caricatures he creates – Hominy Jenkins, the last surviving actor from The Little Rascals, a racist children’s TV show of the yore, Marpessa, a could-have-been-brain-surgeon, Kafka-reading bus driver girlfriend of the hero who’s married to a rapper & Foy Cheshire, a manipulative black pseudo-intellectual – are comical, outrageous and lively all at once.

The high-point of Beatty’s novel, apart from the Oreo-black angst, is the language. The silly ease with which he brings out irony, sarcasm, weirdness, rhetoric and comedy, flipping from mood to mood (never sadness though), often in the same sentence is a delight to read. Sample this ‘The incessant magic tricks that produced dollar pieces out of thin air and the open-house mind games that made you think that the view from the second-floor Tudor style miracle in the hills would soon be yours are designed to fool us into believing that without daddies and the fatherly guidance they provide, the rest of our lives will be futile Mickey Mouseless I-told-ya-so existences’. This is no trick-writing, this is head/heart to pen magic. There’s so much literary energy in the book that the plot becomes irrelevent and seemingly whimsical at most times.

My main gripe about the book is this: Of the humongous number of references to cinema, books, rap, skirmishes and LA urban folklore that Beatty uses to effortlessly adorn the book, I couldn’t recognise more than a tenth. Reading the book with Wikipedia open would have probably allowed me to enjoy the book even more.

Fabulous read! Go for it!