The Sellout is a work of biting satire, and you best be ready for it when you open this book.
Our protagonist is a young man who grew up in Dickens, California – a town or ghetto quickly erased from the maps because it is an embarrassment to L.A. – and spend his childhood as the lab rat in the racially charged studies of his sociologist father. After surviving the Milgram experiment (with real electroshocks) and a re-enactment of the Kitty Genovese case, all he wants to do is grow the best fruit in Southern Los Angeles, but when his father is “accidentally” shot by the police, this peaceful young man decides to put his hometown back on the map. This endeavour will lead him to be the defendant in a race trial at the Supreme Court.
When Dickens’ most famous inhabitant, the former TV-Star Hominy, decides he wants to be the narrator’s slave – and does not take no for an answer, Me (as we know the protagonist) develops a plan to segregate the town. Ruled gangs, murderers, and wannabe intellectuals, Dickens is in a constant state of chaos, until a segregated bus – followed by a segregated school and segregated shops – reminds its inhabitants of their position in society and reinstates humbleness.
The plot, the development from lawless, disincorporated former-town to town-on-the-rise, is really secondary. What Beatty uses his comic talent for is a critical commentary on the state of the so-called “post-racial” society in America. The Selloutaddresses the civil rights movement, urban life, masculinity and the state of the US Constitution. This novel is full of references from all realms of culture and so fast-paced that you will miss half of these if you blink. Taking apart every racial stereotype under the sun and turning white supremacy on its head, this book certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, though Beatty’s humour and charm render it digestible.
The only criticism I can offer to this winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, is that the plot quickly becomes predictable, but as Beatty’s quick-witted, highly intelligent writing and the deconstruction of absurd racist notions are the focus of the book the lack of plot hardly matters. If it’s too much, too fast to read in on sitting, maybe space it out a little – it can grow slightly tiresome at times. Overall, however, a fantastic work of satire!
“This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything.”