Few novelists write characters as improbably multitudinous as Paul Beatty. In The White Boy Shuffle, Gunnar Kaufman is a poet, a basketball player, and a messiah. In Tuff, Tuffy Foshay is a drug-slinger, a competitive eater, a sumo-wrestling enthusiast, and a candidate for city council. In Slumberland, Ferguson “DJ Darky” Sowell is a sax player, a jukebox sommelier, a porn film composer, and an expat. Beatty’s men are everything men – Renaissance dudes in protest of a world that forces them to be defined by their race.
In Beatty’s fourth novel The Sellout, the titular protagonist is a farmer, an ostrich-breeder, a weed dealer, and ultimately a self-made social scientist. He’s known only as “The Sellout,” because he is derided as such by his late father’s friends, who congregate in a Dum Dum Donut in Dickens, California, a fictional Los Angeles town modeled after Compton. Dickens is about to be wiped off the map by real estate moguls to prop the property values of the surrounding areas. After the signs welcoming people in and out of Dickens are removed, The Sellout decides to help put the town back on the map. Like his father, who subjected his son to race experiments that included painting Barbie black so he wouldn’t prefer white women, The Sellout begins conducting race experiments of his own.