Summary and book reviews of The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Sellout

by Paul Beatty

The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2016, 304 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The Sellout is the first book by an American author to win the UK's prestigious Man Booker Prize.

A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality - the black Chinese restaurant.

Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens - on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles - the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident - the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins - he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

One

I suppose that's exactly the problem-I wasn't raised to know any better. My father was (Carl Jung, rest his soul) a social scientist of some renown. As the founder and, to my knowledge, sole practitioner of the field of Liberation Psychology, he liked to walk around the house, aka "the Skinner box," in a laboratory coat. Where I, his gangly, absentminded black lab rat was homeschooled in strict accordance with Piaget's theory of cognitive development. I wasn't fed; I was presented with lukewarm appetitive stimuli. I wasn't punished, but broken of my unconditioned reflexes. I wasn't loved, but brought up in an atmosphere of calculated intimacy and intense levels of commitment.

We lived in Dickens, a ghetto community on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, and as odd as it might sound, I grew up on a farm in the inner city. Founded in 1868, Dickens, like most California towns except for Irvine, which was established as a breeding ground for stupid, fat, ugly, white Republicans and ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. If you were a Supreme Court justice hearing the case of Me v. The United States of America, how would you rule? What does Hampton Fiske, the narrator's attorney ("Don't say shit! Don't run! Don't resist arrest!"), ultimately prove about America's attempts to legislate life?
  2. Did you laugh or cry (or both) at the experiments run by F. K. Me, the narrator's psychologist/social scientist dad? Does your experience of the world support his three-stage Theory of Quintessential Blackness, summarized in Fiske's closing monologue?
  3. Does the concept of a ledger, designed to keep track of who owes a debt and who is entitled to receive a payment, accurately reflect the history of humanity in America? When Foy Cheshire ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Sellout. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Celebrity Culture
“If New York is the City That Never Sleeps, then Los Angeles is the City That’s Always Passed Out on the Couch.” After race, celebrity culture is a major target of Beatty's criticism in the novel. There's the obvious example of Hominy and [i]The ... - MattGrant

Did you laugh or cry at the experiments run by the narrator's psychologist/social scientist dad? Does your experience of the world support his three-stage Theory of Quintessential Blackness?
So far removed from the way I grew up! I wouldn't say that I cried but I felt it was really disturbing! I thought it was one of those "funny not funny" episodes.. - beckys

Do you think THE SELLOUT puts a positive light on blacks in America or does it have the opposite effect?
The story is about a small insular section of the country. It doesn't really put a positive or negative light on blacks in America. You can't judge the whole from one tiny dot. To me, it only shows that people - no matter what color - can be smart... - jww

Does the concept of a ledger, designed to keep track debts and payments accurately reflect the history of humanity in America? When Foy Cheshire calls the narrator a sellout, what is he saying was sold? Who were the buyers?
The concept of a leger really reduces selected people to mere merchandise. In our attempt to repair the damage done to certain groups by compensating them, we never can give back the basic dignity we have taken from them - pennyp

How did you react when the narrator created Dickens's boundary lines, and Marpessa ejected strangers from the bus?
I liked the boundary lines, but they could also have put a physical,line on the areas where Blacks were not allowed to live. It also brings back that time. As to being thrown off the bus, this too brings back a picture of the last. - Peggy H

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2015

  • award image

    Man Booker Prize
    2016

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Sellout feels irreverent, over-the-top, but never so much so that it loses its thoughtfulness or its heart. “Who am I? And how may I become myself?” are questions repeated several times in the novel, questions that remind readers repeatedly of the universality behind the narrator’s story, despite its specific circumstances and its audacious veneer. Even though Beatty’s novel is uniquely American, steeped in the painful history and ongoing discord that characterize race relations here, perhaps this universality is part of what the Man Booker Prize judges recognized and rightly rewarded.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review (808 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.

Media Reviews

The New York Times

The jokes come up through your spleen ... The riffs don't stop coming in this landmark and deeply aware comic novel ... [It] puts you down in a place that's miles from where it picked you up.

Los Angeles Times

[The Sellout] is among the most important and difficult American novels written in the 21st century ... It is a bruising novel that readers will likely never forget.

The Wall Street Journal

Swiftian satire of the highest order ... Giddy, scathing and dazzling.

NPR.org

The Sellout isn't just one of the most hilarious American novels in years, it also might be the first truly great satirical novel of the century ... [It] is a comic masterpiece, but it's much more than just that - it's one of the smartest and most honest reflections on race and identity in America in a very long time.

Library Journal

[A] wicked satire that pokes fun at all that is sacred to life in the United States, from father-son dynamics right up to the Supreme Court. His story is full of the unexpected, resulting in absurd and hilarious drama.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Wildly funny but deadly serious, Beatty's caper is populated by outrageous caricatures, and its damning social critique carries the day

Booklist

Starred Review. Beatty hits on all cylinders in a darkly funny, dead-on-target, elegantly written satire ... frequently laugh-out-loud funny and, in the way of the great ones, profoundly thought provoking. A major contribution.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Another daring, razor-sharp novel from a writer with talent to burn.

Author Blurb Sarah Silverman
The Sellout is brilliant. Amazing. Like demented angels wrote it.

Author Blurb Ben Marcus
"I am glad that I read this insane book alone, with no one watching, because I fell apart with envy, hysterics, and flat-out awe. Is there a more fiercely brilliant and scathingly hilarious American novelist than Paul Beatty?

Author Blurb Sam Lipsyte
Paul Beatty has always been one of smartest, funniest, gutsiest writers in America, but The Sellout sets a new standard. It's a spectacular explosion of comic daring, cultural provocation, brilliant, hilarious prose, and genuine heart.

Reader Reviews

Phyllis from Michigan

Satire or tragicomedy?
As a white reader I do not feel adequate to review the satire, wit, humor, and irony displayed in this novel or the stereotypical behavior of black culture, politics, and entertainment which are all tackled by the author in flashbacks, other than the...   Read More

raj

supz
Superb.

Tired Bookreader

Exhausting
This book did contain an interesting story; however, it was exhausting to read Paul's ramblings and run-on sentences that seemed to continue for days. Many times I realized I was seeing words but thinking of anything else. I did not enjoy reading...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

The Our Gang Films

The GangOne of the central characters in The Sellout is Hominy Jenkins, an elderly black man who was, in his youth, a lesser-known member of the group of child actors featured in the Our Gang series of short films. Hominy Jenkins might be fictional, but Our Gang was certainly not. Produced from 1922 to 1944 by comedy producer Hal Roach, the original films (many of which later made it to television under the title Little Rascals) began as silent movies and ultimately encompassed more than two hundred shorts as well as a feature-length movie.

The GangAmong the most memorable, long-standing characters were Alfalfa, Spanky, Porky, Darla, Farina, and Buckwheat. The films – and consequently their child stars – were phenomenally popular. Featuring ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Sellout, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Pachinko
    Pachinko
    by Min Jin Lee
    Pachinko has one of the best opening lines I've encountered in some time: "History has failed us, ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Summer Before the War
    by Helen Simonson
    Set on the cusp of World War I, The Summer Before the War exudes strength and spirit as a small town...
  • Book Jacket: Lincoln in the Bardo
    Lincoln in the Bardo
    by George Saunders
    George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo is a philosophy discourse brilliantly disguised as a ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin

"A hit…The research is impeccable, the attention to detail, perfect." - The Sunday Mirror (UK)

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    A Piece of the World
    by Christina Baker Kline

    A stunning novel of friendship, passion, and art from the #1 bestselling author of Orphan Train.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    I See You
    by Clare Mackintosh

    A dark and compelling thriller about an everyday woman trapped in the confines of her everyday world.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Finishing second in the Olympics gets you silver. Finishing second in politics gets you oblivion.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

K Your F C

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.