The Sellout

selloutY’know how sometimes when you are having a conversation with someone who has a strong accent and you inadvertently start to mimic that accent? Or after you read a book written with a very distinctive voice you start to think and write in a similar voice? I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. Well, I finished the Sellout a few days ago, but I had to wait before writing it up because otherwise the review would be peppered with profanity and I would be calling all of us niggers.

The narrator of The Sellout was raised and homeschooled by his sociologist father, and was the human guinea pig for many of his father’s studies on racism and being black. The family homestead is several acres in the now unincorporated, urban farm community of Dickens, California. The story begins with the narrator in Washington DC where his civil rights case is being tried before the US Supreme Court and the rest of the book is the story of how he got there. And how he got there is mostly because of the last surviving cast member of the Little Rascals, Hominy Jenkins, who decides to become our narrator’s slave. Confused yet? I was. Here’s my goodreads review:

This book is absurd, funny, and not dripping with sarcasm, more like drowning in it. I thought it was OK, but not really directed at me until at about the 80% mark when it all started clicking. Definitely thought-provoking, could be a great book club book if you could somehow convince everyone to keep going on it.

A goodreads friend called it a fine example of the black satire genre, “if there is such a thing,” to which I say yes and yes. The book is well-written and smart and funny, but it was not easy for me to really feel engaged with it. It was this passage that made me realize that this wasn’t as narrowly focused of a satirical work as it seemed at first. These are the comments by the first judge who is hearing the case:

He’s pointed out a fundamental flaw in how we as Americans claim we see equality. “I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, yellow, red, green, or purple.” We’ve all said it. Posited as proof of our nonprejudicial ways, but if you painted anyone of us purple or green, we’d be mad as hell. And that’s what he’s doing. He’s painting everybody over, painting this community purple and green and seeing who still believes in equality.

The Sellout has definitely stuck with me and I am liking it more as I look back on it. A small community affected in this book, but so much relevance to society at large today. Satire packing a powerful punch.

Note: I wrote this review a week or so ago, and I am posting it this morning, before I read the ToB decision in the first round match up of The Sellout and The Invaders (which I haven’t read). Based on all the commentary so far, I’ll be shocked if The Sellout doesn’t move on. Then again, I was pretty shocked when my beloved Boilermakers choked their first-round match yesterday. Madness.


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