Warning about this week’s Five Star Friday recommendation: Most content will be unsuitable for many readers and contains biting satire, offensive language, racial slurs, casual drug use, violence, and repeated use of incendiary ethnic and cultural stereotypes.
Despite the warning, I still recommend Beatty’s The Sellout. See, I come from a family that when things got really bad, the comments hurled grew increasingly more snarky, snide, and outrageously funny. My husband still recoils when he witnesses our muffled laughter at hospice bedsides and funerals. But it’s a coping mechanism, I tell him, a pressure release valve. As Beatty explained in an NPR interview last year, “Humor is a good way to address really serious things.”
And Beatty’s latest takes aim at all groups in his laugh-out-loud book about racism in America.
“Race has never been an easy topic in America. … In his biting new book The Sellout, [Beatty] jabs at our stereotypes, our fraught dialogues, our inhibitions. His stoned black protagonist is waiting for his trial before the Supreme Court for re-segregating his town and owning a slave. It sounds preposterous. It is. But it also gets at truths about where this nation really is when it comes to race.” — Jane Clayson, guest host NPR’s On Point
Beatty doesn’t preach or suggest solutions. He raises questions through his characters. What is black identity, or what place do racist shows such as The Little Rascals hold in our collective history? Some questions are dark, ridiculous, others piercing. His biting critique of American culture is hilarious, albeit achingly truthful.
As Dave Garner wrote in his NY Times review “…the first third of The Sellout reads like the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility…..with shifting densities of racial and political meaning. The jokes come up through your spleen.”
In his interview with NY Times writer John Williams. Beatty explains:
Before Mr. Beatty turned to writing, he studied psychology at Boston University. He received a master’s degree, but left school before completing his doctorate. It was the 1980s, and he said that in his field there was “a lot of ‘that’s racist, this is racist, that’s racist, this is racist.’ ” He added: “But I never knew what that meant. How do you quantify racism?”
Also by Paul Beatty:
Slumberland The breakout novel from a literary virtuoso about a disaffected Los Angeles DJ who travels to post-Wall Berlin in search of his transatlantic
The White Boy Shuffle – 1996, first novel of poet Paul Beatty. A
coming-of-age tale about a young African American man’s search for identity
He was the editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor
Poetry Collections: Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce
Want to learn more? Watch Beatty’s PBS News Hour interview
Happy Reading, Susan C.