For any of you book lovers out there this book is something that you’ve at least heard of. Having won the Man Booker Prize last year and being one of the most politically charged, incisive, clever and just downright hilarious books I have ever read, I can see why its amassed the fame it has done.
The essential plot is difficult to describe. The protagonist of the novel (aka Bonbon aka The Sellout) is a farmer whose father, an extremely experimental social scientist, raises him as a living case study on the ridiculousness of the idea of a post-racial America. The character grows up in the proudly self-proclaimed “Agrarian Ghetto”/ “Hood” of Dickens, a suburb of LA that is removed from the map. From then on Bonbon goes on a crusade to reinstate slavery, redraw city lines and reintroduce race in the discourse and promote understanding in his locality by bringing back segregation.
That all sounds confusing but every painstaking observation and insane plot line is carefully crafted and intentional. Paul Beatty makes a gutsy, slightly loony but astounding novel by breaking apart all the illusions that people have created about race relations in the United States. There is no such thing as a Post-Racial America and Beatty will show you why in lines that are just are clever as they are funny.
The novel is set in America and deals extensively with the issues that are being spoken of these days but that have been simmering under the surface since the beginning of the country. The specificity of the novel can at times be alienating for those who aren’t aware of all the references but the way in which pop culture, music, farming and American history are blended together are necessary and perfectly capture the tone and ideas that the author seeks to present.
With regard to the tone of the novel I can’t say I wasn’t a little taken aback. I am someone who mostly errs on the side of political correctness but Beatty throws that all out of the window with palpable glee. The novel is scathing and if some of the critiques he makes apply to you, they can be hard to take but overall Beatty is so aware of his message and unapologetically thorough in his reasoning that all the reader can do is take in the barrage of information and just take a breather.
The characters are all well constructed as would be perceived by a mad scientist. They are multidimensional and surreal in a way that highlights the reality of their situation. Hominy Jenkins, in particular, is hilarious in a disturbing way. He’s embroiled in his own racism in such an intrinsic way that he can see no way of self-fulfillment or identity creation than to make himself a slave to the protagonist who is himself black. It is in an attempt to satisfy his needs that the protagonist goes down the rabbit hole of racial unrest and general anger that the American people have for each other.
The book deals with many issues that have always existed but that have been dismissed by people today as being of the past but Beatty shows the reader how the current generations are still just as much a product of racism as the former. Aside from all of this perhaps the most significant aspect of the book is how funny it is, startlingly so because of its subject matter. Beatty has a way of presenting observations about everyday racism in such a poignant way that it simultaneously makes it seem incredibly obvious and makes us laugh at our hesitance to bring it up.
The only negative I really have of the book the that author can at times be a bit too involved in his own prose and a little too aware of its cleverness to the extent that it sometimes sacrifices the readers interest in it, but this was only an occasional gripe and maybe even a necessary one to convey the sentiment in the way that he does.
The story is very west-centric but the author’s observations are in many instances global which make the book an interesting read for people no matter what part of the globe you’re from.
My recommendation for you guys is that you give this book a read. No matter what your perceptions of the world are you should give it a try. It will make you laugh and think and then at the end of the day if you decide that it’s all bullshit you can still say that you gave it a chance. What have you really got to lose?
Rating: 4 stars