The Sellout and Loving Day, review by Sarah Bagby
Paul Beatty and Mat Johnson are black novelists who successfully use humor to address difficult subjects in two new novels, as they take on the concept that we live in a"post-racial" America. What does that even mean?
The Sellout by Paul Beatty begins, “This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I've never stolen anything." Spoken by Bonbon, the narrator of the story, Beatty sets the stage for upending our thoughts and prejudices about race. Bonbon lives in Dickens, Calif., a community that has lost its name and identity. No signs mark the city that once had tourists and visitors. Determined to reinstate community, Bonbon demarcates the original borders with white lines and rolls back the civil rights initiatives designed to eliminate racism. He re-segregates buses and employs one slave on his urban pot and watermelon farm.
Author Mat Johnson is mixed race, the son of an African American mother and an Irish father. He was born three years after the historic 1967 Supreme Court decision that made interracial marriage legal. He calls himself mulatto, a term many find offensive. His inventive novel, Loving Day opens with this line: "In the ghetto there is a mansion, and it is my father's house." Narrated by Warren Duffy, a mixed-race, self-described “inept comic book artist,” this is a funny, sometimes absurd novel. Johnson creates a mulattopia-- a place where mixed race people can exist in their own segregated communities.
On every page, Beatty and Johnson employ comic genius, scholarship, historical and cultural references, and provocation. Nothing is sacred as they attempt to understand what it means to live in a post-racial America that, for many, is as divided as ever.
Sarah Bagby's review first appeared on 89.1 KMUW. Listen to it HERE.