If Hunter S Thompson and Franz Kafka decided to go out for beers on a Tuesday afternoon and after some messed up shenanigans and much liquor decided to write a book together, The Sellout would be it.
The narrator of this story has no first name and the surname Me. After a disturbing childhood where his activist father abused him, and used him as a psychological guinea pig, the reader is taken on a winding and almost nonsensical journey back to our protagonist’s childhood home.
The plot, in so far as there is one, revolves around Me's refusal to accept the removal of his neighbourhood from the map of Los Angeles, and from history. His determination to restore it leads him, among other things, to reinstate slavery and segregate the local high school, although it takes some time to get this point after a bizarre opening scene of Me in the Supreme Court which eventually links us to the reason he is there in the first place.
Abusrdity and provocation, wrapped up in satire, the book is a modern day dictum on race relations, and while Me’s actions to reinstate his home town Dickens are “out there” and somewhat shocking, there is a definitive air of good nature and good intentions.
The Sellout won author Paul Beatty the 2016 Man Booker Prize and it’s easy to see why. It is a beautifully crafted and intricate work that pulls no punches in challenging the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement and the father-son relationship. It brings out the big guns and takes a firm aim at racism and what it has done to black Americans, and there is no way the reader may shy away from it. Indeed it welcomes and even encourages our discomfort.
Overall, The Sellout will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re after a read that challenges, makes you laugh, makes you cry and makes you think, you will enjoy this immensely.