The Satire This Time
Paul Beatty's subversive parody of race relations in America, winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize.
by Paul Beatty
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$26.00 List Price
My late, much lamented friend John Leonard once wrote, "Satire means never having to say you're sorry." I wish John were still around for many reasons, but pertinent to the task at hand, I wish he were here to frame that assertion in the context of Paul Beatty's audacious, diabolical trickster-god of a novel. The Sellout taunts, jostles, bites your face, and makes so many inappropriate noises at whatever passes for America's Ongoing Dialogue on Race that it's practically begging to be batter-fried in acrimony and censure. A scatological narrative submitted with demonic energy and angelic grace (and without any apologies, not even for leaving some of its main plot points unresolved), this damn-near-instant classic of African American satiric fiction keeps asking impertinent questions to the end, arousing those open to its subversive agenda to wonder by the book's conclusion who's really on their worst behavior here: The Sellout's narrator and alleged "sellout," or the people in his world—and ours—who think they know better than he does how to go about getting Justice and Equality.
Consider the opening lines, placed at base camp of this slippery slope:
This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I've never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I've never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store. Never boarded a crowded bus or subway car, sat in a seat reserved for the
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