The Sellout by Paul Beatty – a Humble Review

This book.

I… I just…

In all honesty, I probably shouldn’t even be writing this review just yet, because I still haven’t wrapped my mind around it.

And it’s my own fault, really. I mean, what was I expecting, really, when I read the following phrases in the jacket?

  • Agrarian ghetto
  • Drive-thru funeral
  • Little Rascals
  • Segregation
  • Reinstating slavery

I probably should’ve put that book back on the shelf and walked away, whistling.

I blame Sarah Silverman. She described the book as “… brilliant. Like demented angels wrote it.” So, I had to read this – to get a glimpse inside the mind of a demented angel, if for no other reason.

So… what’s it like inside a crazy angel’s head?

It’s dark, Fam. Very dark. And uncomfortable. And strangely hilarious. In fact, there were times when I would almost throw the book in the trash, only to be stopped by some brilliantly critical passage like:

Don’t tell me Kinshasa, the poorest city in the poorest country in the world, a place where the average per capita income is one goat bell, two bootleg Michael Jackson cassette tapes, and three sips of potable water per year, thinks we’re too poor to associate with (147).

Oh, man. So. Many. Gems.

Anyway, here’s the brief recap: this novel is about an unnamed narrator and his abusive and (I mean, let’s face it) downright psychotic/psychologist father, and about the strange city of Dickens, California.

And he owns a slave – but we’ll get to that in a second.

This book is a scalding criticism of “post-racial”  society…

Pause. Can we just take a moment to reflect on the ridiculousness of that whole concept? Thanks.

So, anyway – the book is a scalding blah, blah, blah of society blah… but wrapped up in switchblade wit. And what’s even better? Most of the best witticisms are delivered by Hominy, the only living member of the Little Rascals, who volunteers becomes the narrator’s slave.

Yup. That happens.

But back to the plot. The narrator, a native of Dickens, grows up under the sadistic tutelage of his father, a sociologist, who almost kills his own son during some of his insane social experiments. The father gets killed by police (in the back, while running away – Hey, South Carolina); the next few pages read like some blaxploitation “Weekend at Bernie’s”, as the narrator lugs his body around the town.

The son then takes his father’s place as the town’s resident “nigger whisperer” (OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG), whose job it is to talk to stressed out Black residents and keep them from snapping and committing violence…

At some point, the town of Dickens ceases to exist (according to GPS), and the narrator decides he’s going to re-institute segregation in order to get it back on the map.

I really don’t want to give away anything else here, because I feel like I’ve already told you too much.

And yet, there’s still so much.

So, here’s my five star rating system:

One Star = I can’t believe I read that garbage all the way to the end. Now, I’ll never get those days back.

Two Stars = If I didn’t have to read this for book club, I probably wouldn’t have even picked it up in the store.

Three Stars = It actually wasn’t bad, but if my house was on fire, I probably wouldn’t grab it on my way out.

Four Stars = This was good! I mean… I wonder how much Half Priced Books would give me for it?

Five Stars = One of my favorite books EVER. Like, I would NEVER loan this out. I will definitely read this again.

So, on my rating scale, I’d have to give this one FIVE STARS. I will definitely read this again, just so that I can catch all of the nuances that I missed.

Because I’m sure I’ve missed something.

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On This, My 44th Trip Around the Sun…

My birthday was last week.

So, I wanted to say something really significant and Zen-like…

Something poignant and profound.

I mean, I really thought about this here thing. Long and hard (pause).

And then I realized…

Who am I trying to be? Seriously… try as hard as I might, I can’t pull off the quiet strength of a Dalai Lama, or that cast-iron-skillet-wisdom of an Iyanla Vanzant.

So, what can I say about this day? Anything? Some small, relatively valuable piece of something-or-other that I’ve learned this past year that I could pass on to others?

Well, here’s what I have:

1)  If your friends don’t support your dreams, break up with them. No matter what. Listen… If I tell my friends, in all seriousness, that I wanna get rid of all of my possessions, move to the country and raise pygmy goats, they better start googling “tiny goats – a do-it-yourself.”

2) Laugh. Often. Find people who like to do the same. Hang out with them. The end.

3) Take responsibility for your shit. If you’re an adult, paying your own bills and raising your children (or not), and getting up and going to work each day, then you have more power than you think. Everything that is happening to you right now, good or bad, is a result of the choices that you made. Not magic. Not curses. Not The Devil. YOU. Okay, MAYBE you can blame something on Danny DeVito. But probably not. So choose carefully.

4) Take time to do something that makes you happy. What is that? Reading? Making music? Traveling? Painting? Building furniture? Breeding hornets? Whatever. Just… find some time to do that. I mean, unless you’re into furries. Then I don’t wanna hear about it.

5) How’s your mama doing? Don’t know? Maybe you should call her. If you’re blessed enough to be able to watch your mother grow older, then maybe you should call her, like, regularly. I’m just saying. Yeah, she’s gonna tell you that story about how she was Prom Queen of George Washington Carver High School in 1962. AGAIN. So what. One day, you’re gonna want to hear that shit so bad, it will hurt. So just sit there and DEAL.

6) Banish anyone from your life who is unkind to you. Now, I’m not talking about somebody who forgot your birthday, or laughed when you slipped on that patch of ice and split your Jordache jeans. No. I’m talking about anyone who has made repeated attempts to humiliate, degrade or diminish you, either in public or private. Get them out of your life immediately. I mean, George Jefferson the SHIT outta them – slam the door RIGHT IN DE FACE.

7) Travel. See how other people eat and sing and dance and dress in other places. See what it’s like to be the foreigner, and have to rely on strangers to make it. It’s a humbling experience, and you’ll be better for it. Trust me on this. Oh, and if you’re eating something unrecognizable, and it’s hot and it tastes good, DON’T. ASK. WHAT. IT. IS.

8) Bring your work home as little as possible. Your home should be a sanctuary – a place where you can focus on your loved ones and yourself, rest and restore yourself for the next day. It should be a comfortable place where you can wear your cartoon underwear and zombie socks and scratch yourself while watching the Game of Thrones marathon, without having to worry about muhfuggahs interrupting you, talkin’ ’bout, “did you remember to submit that report,” and shit.

9) Don’t take other people’s success so personally. Trust me – they didn’t do it just to piss you off. Jeez… narcissist much?

10) And lastly, and this one is the most important… I’m gonna quote Kendrick Lamar’s grandmother (I hope he doesn’t mind): Shit don’t change until you get up and wash your ass. You’re laughing. But that’s because the brilliance and relevance to just about EVERY situation in your life hasn’t sunk in yet. But wait. One night, as you stumble in your front door, holding your panties in one hand, reeking of one too many Patron shots, and you pass out halfway between the living room and the kitchen, only to wake up in a pile of your own sick… or as you sit behind the wheel of your Toyota Celica with the worn brake pads, stuck in traffic behind that truck full of diseased cattle… or as your colicky newborn wakes you up for the NINTH time, and will NOT. STOP. SCREAMING… you’ll think of this quote, and suddenly, everything will make sense.

Now, I’m sure some other important stuff has occurred to me this year, but right now I’m tired and dehydrated, and one of the cats just totally stole the bookmark from my Toni Morrison book (the new one), and now I gotta figure out where the Hell I left off.

Fucking cat.

So, yeah. That’s all I have.

Y’all be good nah, hear?