What’s the opposite of magical realism? A sense of unreality permeates The Sellout, but it’d be hard to describe it as magical. Not when the setting is a minority-majority LA County community so down on its luck that the state of California wipes it off the map in shame. Not when the nameless narrator is the product of a sociologist single father whose cracked worldview and constant experimentation has permanently altered his son’s relationship with reality. And certainly not when that son attempts to save his community by, of all things, reinstating slavery and segregation.
Told in flashback while the narrator awaits his hearing before the Supreme Court, The Sellout is an uproarious and absurd tale with a lot to say about the state of black America, even if you get the sense that the author and his characters would hate anyone who uses the phrase “the state of black America.” Alongside the narrator and his father, Beatty populates his fictional town of Dickens with such outlandish personas as Hominy Jenkins, the last and most forgotten racist caricature from the Little Rascal film shorts, Foy Chalmers, the out-for-himself public intellectual whose self-titled talk show airs on a channel no one gets at a time when no one would ever be awake to see it, and a bunch of old-time gang members who gather together to re-enact their classic battles a la Civil War enthusiasts.
Though there’s a lot going on, Beatty’s writing is so deft and captivating that the story never feels too busy or gets bogged down in detail. The ending is perhaps a little rushed, which is a shame for such a short novel, but The Sellout will amaze and delight you many times along the way.