The Sellout (Beatty)

Dear Mr. Beatty –

Congratulations on the Man Booker Prize. Though I am not a fan of the decision to include Americans, that takes nothing away from you. Bravo.

Years ago, a colleague/friend/great reader chose White Boy Shuffle for our English Department Book Club. I don’t remember much about it, other than a generally negative reaction because I found it to be too interested in being clever.

Nevertheless, that same person as well as another reader I respect convinced me to give this one a go. I finished it a few minutes ago.

Incredible. 289 pages of densely packed satire. I don’t think you missed a sentence or an opportunity. There are no sentences like, “He walked into the office.” Everything takes aim at someone or something. I got some of them. This brings me to another question.

Was this book meant for me? Or am I (being white) like one of the white people who shows up at the Open Mic and laughs too long and too loud? Were you telling me, the white reader, “Do I look like I’m f—ing joking with you? This s— ain’t for you. Understand? Now get the f— out! This is our thing.” I don’t think so because you undermine even this guy by ending the book with the question your protagonist wished he’d asked: “So what exactly is our thing?” But if I’m wrong, and I am to be ejected from the Donut shop, what does that say to / about the Man Booker committee?

I am sure you are familiar with Tom Lehrer’s quotation: “When Kissinger won the Nobel peace prize, satire died.” Now I just looked it up. He is, if the internet can be believed (see there, I did it too), still alive. We all know about the fake news going around these days. (I can’t help myself.) Maybe the Russians hacked his Wikipedia page. (Okay, enough.) I wonder what he’d say about Trump winning the Presidential election. I wonder what you’d say.

So I’m left, as I so often am, with Shakespeare. Or maybe Chinese food. You know how after you eat a big Chinese dinner, you’re hungry about an hour later? That’s kind of how I feel about this book. It is indeed “full of sound and fury,” but, upon reflection, what does it signify (or is that question just proof that I just don’t get it? The flip side could be that the book has received all sorts of praise because people want to prove they can get it.)

I’m certain that if you actually read this letter, you’d mock me in ways that would make even me laugh. And I did laugh a few times when I read this book. Mostly, though, I wondered (and wonder) what would happen if you took your considerable talent and tried to tell a damn story instead of repeatedly showing us that you’re the cleverest kid in the class?

Congrats again on your award. I’m sure you’ll always have readers, but as for me, I “won’t be fooled again.”

Charles

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