There are books I put off reading because I’m intimidated by them. Some seem too literary or academic, others broach topics I’m not comfortable reading about, and a few scare me off because I’m not sure I’m the intended audience. Check, check, and check: The Sellout manages to hit triple cherries on that list, but the other day I guess I got to feeling cocky and decided to give it a whirl. Maybe I had seen one too many reviewers compare Paul Beatty’s humor to Dave Chappelle’s and could no longer resist the siren song.
Based on interviews of Beatty I’ve read and Chappelle’s recent turn as host of Saturday Night Live, I’d say the two share a sort of bemused frustration with this country and the racism rampant in it. Their humor is similarly sharp-edged, too, I suspect because it has to be. Both of them make me think of the phrase “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry,” though that might just be me, as a sheltered, well-meaning white girl who still has the capacity to be surprised by racism (though that’s going away, the more I read and learn).
So yes, a novel about a black man owning a slave and reinstituting segregation was uncomfortable to read, and it’s uncomfortable to write about. But once I shouldered past my discomfort and relaxed into the narrative, I saw that The Sellout is at least two other things besides uncomfortable: hilarious, and surprisingly accessible. It’s not dense or hard to follow, even in audio. There are tons of snappy one-liners and I laughed out loud many times. It gave me a lot to think about and reflect on, and if you have a really brave and ballsy book club, you’d have no shortage of stuff to talk about with this book.
Despite its triple-cherry intimidation factor, I’m glad I decided to nut up and read The Sellout.