Paul Beatty’s bruising, satirical ‘Sellout’ is driven by black voices

From: Los Angeles Times
By Kiese Laymon

9781250083258I new when I read “The White Boy Shuffle” as a junior in college that Paul Beatty had written the book every afflicted black boy wannabe novelist dreamed of creating. Because we lived in the United States, and because we were black boys, and because we were not white boys, and because the publishing industry in the United States was the publishing industry in the United States, we knew there could be only one.

Not one great one. Not one from the West Coast. Not one who got the chance to publish something filled with layers of odd-shaped nihilism, and so many shades of black love, black awkward and black fear. American literature was not hip-hop. We knew that. There could only be room for one youngish black boy novelist who dared to love us and show us that we were way mushier, way weirder and way more brilliant than we thought. White supremacy would have it no other way.

Beatty — who grew up in West Los Angeles, went on to study with Allen Ginsberg and now lives in New York — shifted the expectations of what we could do with secondary characters and literary sound for a generation of young novelists influenced by hip-hop, pull-up jumpers, Toni Morrison and Richard Pryor.

Twenty years later, it’s fairly obvious that the United States is a Kara Walker exhibit and a Paul Beatty novel unknowingly masquerading as a crinkled Gettysburg Address. Appropriately, in “The Sellout,” Beatty’s newest novel, we initially meet our narrator, Bonbon, in the frigid chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Told mostly in flashback, “The Sellout” shows us how a young black boy raised by a single father, who is also a renegade academic, ends up in front of the Supreme Court. As a young man, Bonbon is led to believe that his father’s ambitious academic work might lead to a lucrative memoir that will ensure financial security.

However, after police kill his father, Bonbon realizes that instead of an actual memoir, his father left him a bill for a drive-thru funeral. Inspired by the imagination of Marpessa, his ex-girlfriend and neighborhood bus driver, Bonbon tries to revive the town of Dickens, a “locale” that has literally been removed from the map of Southern California. With the help of Hominy Jenkins, the last surviving Little Rascal, not to mention the most well-known resident of the town and a wannabe slave, Bonbon manages to reinstate a peculiar kind of slavery, segregate the buses and the local high school and get shot. All of this lands him in the Supreme Court. Read Rest of the Review Here


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