A small group joined Books on Tap on a beautiful, September 7, at Champion Brewery to try to “untangle” Paul Beatty’s award-winning 2015 novel, The Sellout.
The plot centers on a Californian African American, an urban farmer home-schooled by his single father, alternately referred to as “Me” or “Bonbon”. He contemplates how he has ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court over his efforts to reinstitute segregation and put his hometown of Dickens back on the map. Oh, and he’s also the reluctant owner of a single slave, Hominy, a former child actor in the television series The Little Rascals.
Going into it, we thought this would be a challenging novel to discuss. It seems to say that one can use racism to make people less racist. And it questions how much or how little progress has been made on race relations in a supposed post-racial America.
Some readers were put-off by the language. There were continual references to American Black culture, stereotypes and sometimes over the top, non-stop comedic innuendos that some readers might not “get”. Many reviewers and critics have characterized the novel as “satire”, but we discussed whether we thought the author really intended it as such. Other readers appreciated the rich, dense sentences but admitted that it made the book a complex read. Readers felt there was some general wackiness and a few subplots that might have distracted from the book’s main storyline.
There are many L.A.-area neighborhood references and fans of The Little Rascals might find some of the related trivia interesting.
Our discussion perhaps inevitably turned to current events and race relations in Charlottesville due to the author’s prescient wording on page 234. Describing different ethnic groups at a “Hood Day” celebration, the main character says of a certain group “..it was hard to tell if they were from Dickens. Like Nazis at a Ku Klux Klan rally, they were comfortable ideologically but not in in terms of corporate culture.”
In the final pages, the protagonist reflecting on his own silence after a white couple is basically chased out of a black comedy club (p. 287), says that “Silence can be either protest or consent, but most times it’s fear.”
About the author
About the book
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Waking Up White by Debbie Irving
2016 National Book Critics Circle Award (Fiction), winner for The Sellout
2016 Man Booker Prize winner for The Sellout
2017 International Dublin Literary Award long-list for The Sellout
Books on Tap Information:
- House of Stone by Anthony Shadid (October 5) Other formats available.
- Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (November 2) Other formats available.
- The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout (December 7)
Have a suggestion for future titles? Add them to this list.