Title: The Sellout
Rating: 4 Stars
The narrator (unnamed but whose last name has been apparently changed to Me) has a problem. He has lived his entire life in Dickens, which is, astonishingly enough, a rural section of South Central Los Angeles. It’s a heavily minority community known for its poverty and violence.
One day he realizes that all of the references to Dickens has been removed. It is no longer a town of its own but part of some larger entity.
He decides to take action and try to restore the Dickens name, and in so doing, hopefully leave its residents in a better, more positive place.
He realizes, that of all the indignities that have been visited upon the black race, rendering them invisible appears to be the worst. Not only are the black people effectively invisible to the larger community, but accepting this invisibility also leave the black people feeling invisible to themselves.
Hominy Jenkins is the last surviving member of the old, horribly racist show, Lil Rascals. He never got the fame of Buckwheat. He was the second fiddle black child. After the end of Lil Rascals, he resorted to more and more demeaning black roles until he ends up in Dickens with an addled mind.
Hominy pleads with the narrator to enslave him. Knowing that this is what Hominy needs to regain his self after a lifetime of degradation, the narrator reluctantly agrees. Hominy does very little work and his whipping takes place at a BDSM club.
Hominy tells the narrator to think bigger. Try to save the community, not just one black person at a time.
After much thought, he boards a local bus and replaces the priority seating sign with one that states the priority is for whites. He puts up a big sign next to the decrepit local school announcing the formation of a brand new, ultra modern, very expensive school exclusively for whites. The implication is that the decrepit local school is the school for only minorities. He spray paints the local run down hospital with signs saying ‘For Coloreds Only’.
Via this, he institutes de facto segregation in Dickens. Surprisingly enough, the open oppression of segregation re-energizes the community. School scores are up, crime is down, there is even some form of peace between the various rival gangs.
By this extreme action, Dickens becomes once again a community.
That’s the nuts and bolts of it. From the flat description, this probably seems like a prissy, moralistic tale told with heavy-handed political correctness.
In no way is this the truth. In short, the novel is fucking hilarious. There were many moments of laugh out humor. Paul Beatty has a point of view and he expresses it with a rapier sharp satire. No one is spared.
This is not the gentle satire of Keillor. This is Swiftian. Be prepared to laugh uproariously in one page and then shift uncomfortably on the next. This is a blast of heat about race today.
If someone wants to read about the state of race and race relations in the United States in the first part of the twenty-first century, this would be an extremely good place to start.