Wednesday, August 3, 2016

book review; The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The backstory: The Sellout won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and has been longlisted for the 2016  Booker Prize. It was also a 2015 New York Times Notable Book (including being honored as one of the five best fiction titles of the year) and a contestant in the 2016 Tournament of Books.

The basics:  "A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant."--publisher

My thoughts: The first ten percent or so of this book had me thinking, "this may be the most provocative and brilliant thing I've ever read." I should remind myself when I get that excited about a book that early, it's nearly impossible to sustain. The Sellout is undeniably brilliant, and I see why it has received such acclaim, but for me as a reader, it was brilliant but flawed.

Part of my issues from it inevitably stem from my issues with many examples of satire. I find satire best in small doses. I don't know that I would consider The Sellout a straight satire, which is part of the problem I had with it. Parts of it read like a more straight-forward comedy, parts read like a contemporary literary novel, and parts read as beyond absurd (I know, the tension between absurdity and reality is central to satire, but in this novel, it felt inconsistent.)

The opening scene would be a brilliant short story. Despite a few other standout scenes, nothing ever matched the book's' opening for me. Overall, I found the social commentary much more compelling than the story itself.

Favorite passage:  "Like all people who believe in the system, he wants answers. He wants to believe that Shakespeare wrote all those books, that Lincoln fought the Civil War to free the slaves and the United States fought World War II to rescue the Jews and keep the world safe for democracy, that Jesus and the double feature are coming."

The verdict: Paul Beatty is clearly a brilliant and talented writer, and I'm glad I read The Sellout for the parts I enjoyed most, as well as the parts that made me think. Despite its strengths, of which there are many, I also found too many flaws that tempered my enjoyment, if not my appreciation, for this novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: March 3, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Sellout from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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1 comment:

  1. i have been wanting to read this. I will have to check it out to see what i think.

    ReplyDelete

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