Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Sellout

The SelloutThe Sellout by Paul Beatty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've finished The Sellout by Paul Beatty, Man Booker winner this year, which is like Dave Chappelle (SNL) on steroids. The story of a "nigger-whisperer" and farmer from a small black enclave in LA called Dickens. As a "crisis negotiator, "I found myself in my pajamas, at least once a week, standing barefoot in an apartment complex courtyard, bullhorn in hand, staring up at some distraught, partially hotcombed-headed mother dangling her baby over a second-floor balcony ledge. When my father did the whispering...every payday he'd be inundated by teeming hordes of the bipolar poor, who having spent it all in one place, and grown tired and unsated from the night's notoriously shitty prime-time television lineup, would unwedge themselves from between the couch-bound obese family members and the boxes of unsold Avon beauty products, turn off the kitchen radio pumping song after song extolling the virtues of Friday nights living it up at the club, popping bottles, niggers and cherries in that order, then having canceled the next day's appointment with their mental health care professional, the chatterbox cosmetologist, who after years doing heads, still knows only one hairstyle--fried, dyed and laid to the wide--they'd choose that Friday, 'day of Venus,' goddess of love, beauty and unpaid bills, to commit suicide, murder, or both. But under my watch people tended to snap on Wednesday. Hump day."

This book took me a long time to get into, to get used to his language and craziness and a feeling of not wanting to be there at all, but now I look up at my favorite quotes and marvel at Beatty's creativity and smack-on descriptions and realize he is a winner. At times, I was thinking of Tom Robbins or J. P. Donleavy - you can see I don't keep up with today's comic writers much - because his plots and situations seemed so outlandish and out-of-my-world and they may be, but his is a formidable talent for writing. I am with him. The book club was not, only one other liked it. More favorite quotes:

"Most times there's so much Nina Simone 'Mississippi Goddam' despondency in the night air it becomes hard to focus. The deep purple contusions about the face and arms...And invariably, softly in the background, billowing the curtains through the parted sliding glass doors, there's always Nina Simone. These are the women my father warned me about. The drug-and-asshole-addled women who sit in the dark, hard up and lovesick, chain-smoking cigarettes, phones pressed to their ear, speed-dialing K-Earth 101 FM, the oldies station, so they can request Nina Simone or the Shirelles' 'This is Dedicated to the One I Love' aka 'This is Dedicated to Niggers That Beat Me Senseless and Leave.' Stay away from bitches who love Nina Simone and have faggots for best friends,' he'd say, 'They hate men.' "

"That's the problem with history, we like to think it's a book--that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn't the paper it's printed on. It's memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you." p.115

"You never see people in commercials that look 'Jewish,' just as you never see black people that come off as 'urban' and hence 'scary,' or handsome Asian men, or dark-skinned Latinos.. you see more ads featuring unicorns and leprechauns than you do gay men and women...But if you really think about it, the only thing you absolutely never see in car commercials isn't Jewish people, homosexuals or urban Negroes, it's traffic." p. 139

Sister Cities. "Some unions, like that of Tel Aviv and Berlin, Paris and Algiers, Honolulu and Hiroshima, are designed to signal an end to hostilities and the beginning of peace and prosperity. Others are shotgun marriages because one city (e.g.,Atlanta) impregnated another (e.g., Lagos) on a first date...Some cities marry up for money and prestige; others marry down to piss off their mother countries, Guess who's coming for dinner? Kabul! Every now and then, two cities meet and fall in love out of mutual respect and a love for hiking, thunderstorms and classic rock 'n' roll. Think Amsterdam and Istanbul. Buenos Aires and Seoul." p.145

"For the most part in L.A. County you can gauge the threat level of a community by the color of its street signs. In Los Angeles proper the signs are a hollowed-out metallic midnight blue. If a bird's nest constructed of pine needles was tucked inside the sign, it meant evergreen trees and a nearby golf course. Mostly white public-school kids whose parents lived above their means in upper-middle-class neighborhoods like Cheviot Hills, Silver Lake and the Palisades. Bullet holes and a stolen car wrapped around the post signified kids about my hair texture, allowance level, and clothing syle in neighborhoods like Watts, Boyle Heights, and Highland Park. Sky blue signified kick back cool bedroom communities like Santa Monica, Rancho Palos Verdes, and Manhattan Beach. Chill dudes commuting to school by any means necessary from skateboard to hang glider, the good-bye lipstick prints from their trophy-wife mothers still on their cheeks. Carson, Hawthorne, Culver City, South Gate and Torrance are all designated by a working-class cactus green; there the little homies are independent, familiar and multilingual. Fluent in Hispanic, black, and Samoan gang signs. In Hermosa Beach, La Mirada and Duarte the street signs are the bland brown of cheap blended malt whiskey. The boys and girls mope their way to school, depressed and drowsy, past the hacienda-style tract housing. The sparkling white signs denote Beverly Hills, of course. Exceedingly wide hilly streets lined with rich kids unthreatened by my appearance. Assuming that if I was there I belonged. Asking me about the tension of my tennis racquets. Schooling me on the blues, the history of hip-hop, Rastafarianism, the Coptic Church, jazz, gospel, and the myriad of ways in which a sweet potato can be prepared." p. 191

"Daddy never believed in closure. He said it was a false psychological concept. Something invented by therapists to assuage white Western guilt. In all his years of study and practice, he'd never heard a patient of color talk of needing 'closure.' They needed revenge. They needed distance. Forgiveness and a good lawyer, maybe, but never closure. He said people mistake suicide, murder, lap band surgery, interracial marriage, and overtipping for closure, when in reality what they've achieved is erasure." p. 261

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