Monday, April 10, 2017

Into Each Life, A Few Mystifying Books Must Fall


I've talked before about the mixed blessing of list reading, which forces me to read books I wouldn't otherwise choose, with sometimes thrilling, sometimes challenging results. This Man Booker Prize winner is one of the latter.

Despite my general aversion to the genre, I'm able to recognize that The Sellout by Paul Beatty is a tremendously inventive racial satire of Swiftian proportions, with perhaps a little Pynchon (my nemesis) and Vonnegut thrown in for good measure. It's crazy and sometimes funny and whenever you think it's going to settle down and behave like a traditional novel, it starts doing handsprings all over the furniture--again!--and you don't know what to think anymore.

I'm not sure why this is hailed as such a breakthrough. Racial conversations are highly charged, and rightfully so, and I recognize that I personally need to do more to escape my lens of white privilege, even as I consider myself a sensitive, open-minded person. Time for more research and expanding my personal horizon.

In the meantime, any decent review will have a summary of the plot and this review from the New York Times is excellent, so I have little to say beyond a recommendation that before undertaking this book you brace yourself for a deluge of the n-word, some flat-out inventive hyperbole that may make you laugh aloud while perhaps also offending you to some degree, and plenty of pop culture and literary inside jokes that are fun if you get them. Mostly you should sit back and try to enjoy the experience, in the same way you might set an intention to enjoy a visit from, say, The Cat in the Hat.

Excerpt:

The sirens were half a town away. Even when the county was flush with property tax revenue on overvalued homes, Dickens never received its fair share of civil services. And now with the cutbacks and graft, the response time is measured in eons, the same switchboard operators who took the calls from the Holocaust, Rwanda, Wounded Knee, and Pompeii still at their posts. . . . In clumpy folds, the paint oozed over the left half of [Foy's] face and down the length of that side of his body, until one eye, one nostril, one shirtsleeve, one pant leg, and on Patek Philippe watch were washed completely white. Foy was no Tree of Knowledge, at most he was a Bush of Opinion, but in any case, it was obvious that, publicity stunt or not, he was dying on the inside. I looked down at his roots. One brown shoe splattered with paint from the milky waterfall that sluiced through his goatee and fell from his chin. This time there was no doubt that he'd lost it, because if there's one thing a successful black man like Foy loves more than God, country, and his ham-hock-limbed mama, it's his shoes.

Note: This book counts toward my quest to read all the Man Bookers, the Color Coded Reading Challenge, and the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. It's also the D location in the Where are You Reading Challenge. Whew!

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