The Sellout

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The Sellout
304 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Let’s get this out of the way: The Sellout is a work of a genius, a satirical opus on race in 21st-century America. It takes place mostly in a California ghetto called Dickens, once an agrarian community whose founding charter set forth that it would be free of “Chinamen, Spanish of all shades, dialects, and hats. Frenchmen, redheads, city slicker, and unskilled Jews.” The narrator (surname Me and nicknamed the Sellout) is an African-American man who was raised by a race-obsessed father out to unlock the keys to “black liberty." He wasn’t above using his son as a guinea pig, regularly subjecting him to social experiments, including administering electric shock if he failed to come up with the right answers to his random black history quizzes. Me grows up to be a radical-idea-chasing, N-word-dropping, weed-smoking farmer. After L.A. County literally drops Dickens off the map to keep up property values in the affluent areas nearby, Me concocts an outrageous plan to restore it.

Beatty, a provocateur best known for his novel The White Boy Shuffle, here explores racism by taking it to absurd proportions. At one point, Me attends a cabal of black thinkers, among them the creator of a send-up of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which Tom is a "preppy black boy, wearing penny loafers and argyle socks." Its author refers to his work as a "WME, a Weapon of Mass Education," a title that would be as apt for The Sellout, which inventively challenges the tenets of racial equality, exploding and laying bare our biases and ignorance.

— Mitchell Jackson