STARRED REVIEW
March 05, 2015

A fearless American satire

By Paul Beatty
In this gorgeously eclectic novel, Beatty tells the story of a black man cast out from his hometown of Dickens, California—a man considered to be a sellout for everything from listening to Neil Young and reading Franz Kafka to growing and selling watermelon for a living.
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Paul Beatty is not afraid to push and shatter the boundaries of political correctness. Like many of his other works—including his acclaimed debut The White Boy ShuffleThe Sellout is unafraid to ask big questions about America. In this gorgeously eclectic novel, Beatty tells the story of a black man cast out from his hometown of Dickens, California—a man considered to be a sellout for everything from listening to Neil Young and reading Franz Kafka to growing and selling watermelon for a living. It doesn’t matter that these watermelons are the world’s best, or that he is the son of a maniacal psychologist bent on testing racial identity.

But when Dickens is removed from the map, the sellout comes up with an idea to not only bring back the neighborhood, but to remind everyone of what it means to be a community. With the help of Hominy Jenkins, a self-purported slave and local celebrity of “Little Rascals” fame, the narrator sets out to re-instate segregation—forcing the world, and the reader, to question how segregated this country already is.

It’s a dark but comic plot that shapes this angry satire, but Beatty is less interested in getting to the end as he is in exploring the myriad experiences of being black in America and an individual in a society. He does so with freewheeling prose that is electric with intelligence, and yet never above the reader’s head. In a single sentence he might reference obscure existentialist philosophers alongside string theory and bebop jazz, but it is all with respect for the reader’s ability and no distinction between highbrow or low.

At once hysteric and hysterical, angry and full of heart, The Sellout is a smart, funny and distinctly American novel.

Theodore Yurevitch is a writer and editor at the Nashville Review. 

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The Sellout

The Sellout

By Paul Beatty
Picador
ISBN 9781250083258

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