The Sellout

A Novel
Narrated by: Prentice Onayemi
Length: 9 hrs and 35 mins
4 out of 5 stars (3,435 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Audie Award Finalist, Fiction, 2016

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 the '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.

©2015 Paul Beatty (P)2015 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • Winner, The Man Booker Prize, 2016

  • 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, Fiction
"Narrator Prentice Onayemi embodies Bonbon, along with the novel's many unique characters: a former 'Our Gang' understudy, a former girlfriend who is now a city bus driver, the denizens of the neighborhood, and the white surfer dudes whom Bonbon regularly confuses at the beach. There's even a small part for Justice Clarence Thomas, which Onayemi does in style, and street Spanish, which, when required, flows perfectly." ( AudioFile magazine)

Editor's Pick: Best of the Decade

The new Great American Novel
''I can't think of another novel from this decade that affected me as much as The Sellout did. For me, the The Sellout revolutionized what the contemporary American novel could be—satirical, lyrical, truly laugh-out-loud funny—all while attacking the ugliness that lives within our world without ever flinching. The unrelenting rhythm of Beatty's writing, which is brought to life by Prentice Onayemi's narration, will have you hooked within minutes of the prologue. If there's one novel of this decade that you should not sleep on, this is it.''—Aaron S., Audible Editor

What listeners say about The Sellout

Average Customer Ratings
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Do Yourself a Favor - Listen to Another Book

What would have made The Sellout better?

There is no attempt at character development in this novel. There is, ironically, no soul in this novel. There is no real goal our first person narrator seeks that the reader can wrap their minds around and either root for or against his achieving. No matter what the wordsmithing skills of an author are, and Beatty is obviously gifted, crafting many a clever turn-of-phrase, if a novel lacks all three of the criteria mentioned, it's not a satisfying read. Many passages come off like something you might hear at a hip poetry slam. Whooee! Fast, furious, and fleeting, and not particularly meaningful even though the subject matter is profound. Racism is profound but Beatty's approach is flip. He employs hundreds of literary and historical references which are impressive but do not especially illuminate a point as much as distract from it. In other words, it's a superficially devised work that falls short as a novel for me.

Has The Sellout turned you off from other books in this genre?

If the genre is African American literature - then yes it pales in comparison to Ellison, Baldwin, Walker, Houston because these authors wrote great pieces illuminating racism within the framework of a novel.

If the genre is satire - then it's missing the mark that say Orwell, Heller, Vonnegut did. There's no humor. There's a lot of absurdity and exaggerated outlandish circumstances, but nothing is familiarly pointed to make you laugh and squirm at the same time. It's all squirm all the time.

Have you listened to any of Prentice Onayemi’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I am not familiar with this narrator's work, I thought he did a fine job. His narration was actually the only good thing about it. I honestly couldn't wait for it to end and am surprised it won the Booker Prize as I generally love the winners.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

I'm going to admit that because I'm not living a life where I have to deal daily with America's inherent racism (which our 2016 election demonstrates convincingly is horrendously prevalent), then I just might be lacking the context to appreciate this novel. I really just didn't get it. The author is knowledgeable and ambitious but this didn't work for me.

Any additional comments?

I really do not enjoy writing negative reviews. I know the author has achieved what I could not. I read one negative review of this book before buying but dismissed it because of the Booker Prize. I realized very quickly I should have paid attention to it because they were spot on. Negative reviews can help you save time and money if the review touches your own sensibilities.

101 people found this helpful

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Too clever by half.......

This book is just so packed full of satire and wit that it trips over itself and ends up a mess, like a joke that goes too far and one forgets the funny part at the beginning because now it's passed beyond that into ridiculousness (or, worse, into offensive). I thought it might just be the first part, to set up the message that the book is satire, but the hits just kept on coming and I quickly was knocked out into turning it off.

The narrator is terrific and the story looked like it might have gotten interesting, but the constant side-comments and satirical points were so frequent and numerous that I felt that "the [book] doth protests too much, methinks", That the author seemed so eager to make his point that he went overboard.

If I hadn't bought it at a 2-for-1 sale, I would have returned it.

37 people found this helpful

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Appreciated it, but didn't like it

I really appreciated the humor, the cultural references, the satire, the cleverness and the reality of what this author wrote. But the stream-of-consciousness style became so repetitive and so mind-numbing that I stopped hearing what the author was saying.
I wanted to experience this book as some other reviewers and some critics have as a brilliant tour-de-force, but instead I found it self-indulgent and desperately in need of a storyline.
I tried to follow what was being said with the small portions of plot thrown in, but the listening task of keeping up with the constant and overwhelming satire made the task impossible for me.
I even hesitated to write this negative review considering the importance of the subject matter, but this book lost me after struggling to listen barely halfway through. Besides, the people who should be reading or listening to this book, won't be reading or listening to it.

117 people found this helpful

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Just OK - a few funny sections

A friend told me about this novel and said it was funny. He recommended to me, and we normally like a lot of the same books. It's not like I hated the story, but it just didn't interest me all that much. It had a few funny sections and a few witty passages, but overall it's just not that great. The narrator is good, though he sounded really thirsty, lol. I could hear him constantly working his mouth. All in all, I wasn't that impressed. It was OK, but I wouldn't recommend it if someone was asking my opinion.

37 people found this helpful

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Brilliant book, fantastic narrator!

Ever since hearing the sample clip I've been listening to this book non-stop. It's so well-written, bold, profound, hilarious, and on-point. Paul Beatty has been compared to Vonnegut, Roth, and Heller, but he's got his own distinct voice that is beautifully captured by the narrator. I'm really sorry to have finished this book and enjoyed it so much that I may have to listen to it again, which I never do. Many are calling it the best book of 2015 and it's definitely got my vote!

62 people found this helpful

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Didn't work for me, though at times amusing

Any additional comments?

Not sure what made me pick this one up - not so glad I did. On the positive side, the book offers humorous propositions for the revitalization of suppressed and impoverished minority communities, provides great period detail as well as vivid portrayal of the communities southeast of LA. What didn't really work for me was Beatty's attempt to wrap the plight of disenfranchised black people up in cynical humor. Hostility bleeds too transparently through the humor. His characters are interesting, but lack the honesty that it would take for me to connect with them. Beatty is obviously well-read, intelligent, and shows it, with many references to all things cultural, literary and obtuse. I personally found the literary name-dropping a bit excessive and a distraction from the story. The book is interesting from an east-LA and baby-boomer-generation historical perspective, and Beatty definitely has talent as a writer - this one just didn't work for me.

41 people found this helpful

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uncomfortablely comfortable

As a highly educated Black man living in the United States, I feel as if this book was written to me. The illustrative depiction of the duality of ignorant intelligence was so incredibly elegant that the things I disliked about the book - the loquaciousness, the temporally difficult to follow diatribes - were the things I actually found most endearing. For, if these previously-mentioned aspects were not rampantly displayed throughout the book, I would doubt the sincerity of the book's meesage. My only wish, at this point, is to be able to talk to someone else who's read the book. I am grateful to the skilled author for having written this book!

98 people found this helpful

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Unintelligible Esoteric Rambling Narrated Well

I wish I could say that this book had a great plot fleshed out with vivid musings. But I couldn't force myself to keep listening to what amounted to esoteric word salad. The portion that I did manage to grind through was filled with non-sequitorious nonsense. In all probability there's a point in there somewhere; it's just not in the first few chapters. Here's what I can say, the author has a big vocabulary.

16 people found this helpful

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Clever and original. Brilliant work.

You really need to listen to this book with notepaper nearby. There are some incredibly witty lines that deserve way more attention than a quick listen.

For instance, when he's talking about giving a Paul Revere-type warning to the homies he muses, "One if by Land Cruiser. Two if by C Class Mercedes." I don't often laugh out loud during books, but I certainly did during this one. It's irreverent and wickedly funny.

This is some fine satire. If you like sincere books, perhaps a different selection would be a better choice. But if you appreciate some biting humor that leaves no stone unturned, this is a 5-star choice.

63 people found this helpful

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Outstanding, the NY Times was right when they put on their best of 2015 list.

I've read many books but this is by far the funniest most entertaining of the lot. The way he favors the truth is golden. Now I have to track down his other works. Make sure when you listen you have something to write with because you are going to want to note some of his quotes. How does he come up with some of this stuff. To write this his mind had to be thinking in some other level. I'm driving around laughing with folks thinking I'm crazy. They also picked the perfect performer to read it. Wow!

33 people found this helpful

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  • melanie
  • 04-17-16

Disappointed

Did not like the many sexual references and did not think the story was very engaging.