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I finished the 2016 Man Booker Prize winner The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, for my birthday. It was both unfamiliar and tasty. Easy to fit on the fork and easy to snack on in one sitting.
The main character and narrator, known only as the “sellout,” is funny and down to earth as he tells his tale of race relations in modern America. The jokes and pop culture references makes him both likeable and enduringly memorable. He is that one friend you’ve known for years.
Beatty uses him to soften the blows of his narrative curve-balls. Many times I raised my eyebrows and announced to my empty bedroom, “what am I reading?” Through short stories and anecdotes, the story becomes clear — the sellout wants to bring segregation back to America.
The floodgates are opened and everyone on the political spectrum receives scathing commentary. Those who ignore racism are dealt with harshly, as well as the left’s tendency to pander to victims of racism for the sake of virtue-signalling.
What fascinated me most was the quote from the Guardian on the front cover: “The most lacerating American satire in years.” Yet Beatty refuses to allow it to be labelled a satire. Sure, it’s comical in parts, but it’s a more thoughtful commentary in a similar vein to C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. It’s so much easier to take out a message you already know and are comfortable with than to be challenged while reading.
I think the book strives for unity and togetherness between different cultures. Beatty understands that we need a common cause to unite those who have grown up with different backgrounds and values. If you’re a silent class member, exhausted from political conversations, this is still a fun and enjoyable romp with engaging characters and a what’s going to happen next? storyline. Powerful, humbling, and definitely digestible.