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Excerpt from The Sellout by Paul Beatty, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Sellout

by Paul Beatty

The Sellout by Paul Beatty X
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 304 pages

    Mar 2016, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Print Excerpt

My memories of my father aren't all bad. Though technically I was an only child, Daddy, like many black men, had lots of kids. The citizens of Dickens were his progeny. While he wasn't very good with horses, he was known around town as the Nigger Whisperer. Whenever some nigger who'd "done lost they motherfucking mind" needed to be talked down from a tree or freeway overpass precipice, the call would go out. My father would grab his social psychology bible, The Planning of Change, by Bennis, Benne, and Robert Chin, a woefully underappreciated Chinese-American psychologist my dad had never met but claimed as his mentor. Most kids got bedtime stories and fairy tales; I had to fall asleep to readings from chapters with titles like "The Utility of Models of the Environments of Systems for Practitioners." My father was nothing if not a practitioner. I can't remember a time when he didn't bring me along on a nigger whisper. On the drive over he'd brag that the black community was a lot like him-ABD.

"All but dissertation?"

"All but defeated."

When we arrived, he'd sit me on the roof of a nearby minivan or stand me atop an alleyway Dumpster, hand me a legal pad, and tell me to take notes. Among all the flashing sirens, the crying and broken glass crunching softly under his buckskin shoes, I'd be so scared for him. But Daddy had a way of approaching the unapproachable. His face sympathetic and sullen, palms turned up like a dashboard Jesus figurine, he'd walk toward some knife-wielding lunatic whose pupils were dilated to the size of atoms smashed by a quart of Hennessy XO and a twelve-pack light-beer chaser. Ignoring the bloodstained work uniform caked in brain and fecal matter, he'd hug the person like he was greeting an old friend. People thought it was his selflessness that allowed him to get so close, but to me it was his voice that got him over. Doo-wop bass deep, my father spoke in F-sharp. A resonant low-pitched tone that rooted you in place like a bobby-socked teenager listening to the Five Satins sing "In the Still of the Night." It's not music that soothes the savage beast but the systematic desensitization. And Father's voice had a way of relaxing the enraged and allowing them to confront their fears anxiety-free.

When I was in grade school, I knew from how the taste of the pomegranates would bring you to tears, from the way the summer sun turned our Afros blood-orange red, and from how giddy my father would get whenever he talked about Dodger Stadium, white Zinfandel, and the latest green flash sunset he'd seen from the summit of Mount Wilson that California was a special place. And if you think about it, pretty much everything that made the twentieth century bearable was invented in a California garage: the Apple computer, the Boogie Board, and gangster rap. Thanks to my dad's career in nigger-whispering, I was there for the birth of the latter, when at six o'clock on a cold, dark ghetto morning two blocks down from where I live, Carl "Kilo G" Garfield, hallucinating high on his own supply and Alfred Lord Tennyson's brooding lyricism, burst out of his garage squinting into his Moleskin, a smoldering crack pipe dangling from fingertips. It was the height of the crack rock era. I was about ten when he clambered into the bed of his tricked-out, hot-rod yellow Toyota pickup truck, the TO and the TA buffed out and painted over so that the brand name on the tailgate read just YO, and began reciting his verse at the top of his lungs, the slurred iambic pentameter punctuated with gun claps from his nickel-plated .38 and pleas from his mama to take his naked ass inside.


Half a liter, half a liter,

Half a liter onward

All in the alley of Death

Rode the Olde English Eight Hundred.

Forward, the Light-skinned Spade!

"Charge for the Bloods!" he said:

Into the alley of Death

Rode the Olde English Eight Hundred ...

Excerpted from The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Copyright © 2015 by Paul Beatty. Excerpted by permission of Picador. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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