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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Two Great Paperbacks: Private Citizens and The Sellout

Private Citizens, by Tony Tulathimutte — If I could nominate an alternate title for this incredibly well-written, smart debut novel, it'd be "Hot Mess Millennials Make Increasingly Bad Decisions." I really dug this book because to me the only thing better than reading about one character who can't get out of his/her own way is FOUR characters for which that's true. And that's what we have here. Four recent Stanford grads try to navigate their treacherous 20s in San Francisco, to vastly varying degrees of success.

I liked this book because it elevates itself well above the familiar theme of "life is hard when you're young and stupid." For one, stories like this almost always takes place in New York – so seeing this one unfold amidst the tech boom of mid-2000s San Francisco was fascinating. Secondly, the characters in this type of story are often good people striving against tough circumstances. These characters are decidedly...off. But they all have their redeeming qualities as well. There's your porn addicted tech guru who is dating a young ambitious woman who sees people as mere pawns in her grand scheme, a flighty nihilist who uses sex as power, an idealistic liberal activist who fails basic tests of common sense, and the perennial student with the odd upbringing

So if you liked A Little Life, but wanted a novel maybe a little shorter and a lot less horrifying, this is the story for you. Tulathimutte is a really talented, sharp writer — you might even see whispers of DFW here and there in the way he writes goofy logical double-binds and turns of phrases. Highly recommended!

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The Sellout, by Paul Beatty — Oh man, this novel is something else — like what would happen if Chris Rock (and I'm sure Beatty would be apoplectic at this comparison) decided to convert a stand-up routine to a novel, but make it much smarter and even more irreverent. Crazy stuff here! No racial taboo is untouched in this year's National Book Critics Circle award winner, and it is utterly, completely hilarious. Though it does lose a little momentum at the end (which isn't a huge deal, it's a short book), this is one of the funnier novels I've read in long time — but it's sure not for the easily offended.

It almost reads like a collection of set pieces (comedy bits?), but a story does emerge — it's about a guy named Bonbon Me, a black guy who is a farmer, surfer, grower of amazingly good fruit and weed, and rider of horses. The story takes place in present day in the town of Dickens, California, a Los Angeles suburb/neighborhood that has been zoned as farmland, but has turned seedy, like many other black LA 'hoods. Bonbon goes about his life in typical fashion, owning a slave who happens to be the last surviving Little Rascal, trying to re-segregate schools, pining for his long-time crush who has married a rapper named DJ Panache, and working hard to get Dickens re-recognized on maps.

It's a novel rich in irony, cultural references, and laugh-out-loud jokes. If you liked Americanah, but thought it just a touch too serious, this is the book for you. Great.

1 comment:

  1. I loved Private Citizens so I'm glad to see you giving it some love here.And The Sellout is on my TBR list, so glad to see you liked it. Our tastes often seem to jive.

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