I have never read any of Paul Beatty’s work, leaving me totally vulnerable to anything that Beatty could throw out at me. I strolled into Barnes & Noble, and with a little help from one over-enthusiastic worker, I located the display case of the novel under “Best-Sellers”. It’s always refreshing to walk out with a brand-new paperback so I left with giddy optimism.
The first 50 pages had my head spinning and I couldn’t quite put my finger on where this novel was headed. I felt extreme pity for Bonbon and only wanted to protest every experiment that his father put him through.
The novel’s satirical approach was refreshing and uncomfortable for me time and time again. The “n-word”, the self-enslavement of Hominy, and the non-stop referrals to male genitalia seemed unnecessary at first. If there is one thing that I have learned during my time in college, however, is that it is important to read novels that make me uncomfortable. White America has done an excellent job of white-washing the literature taught in schools like Huckleberry Finn, which Beatty refers to.
Using unconventional to describe the way in which Bonbon is raised is a nice way of putting it. He is essentially a lab rat for his father’s psychoanalytic tests and experiments. It’s aggravating, but Bonbon is able to make reason of them after his father is shot by the cops. He is not set back by his childhood but uses it to think progressively about the changes that need to be made in the community of Dickens.
His work as a farmer is intriguing because it is not a position that African Americans seek out anymore because of the history of slavery. Farming is typically categorized as predominantly white male position. Bonbon, however, is trying to understand Eurocentrism, racism, and segregation of whites and blacks by being in the position of whites.
One of my favorite scenes is when Bonbon is eating oreo after oreo during one of the Dum Dum Donuts Intellectuals meetings. As is generally known, Oreos are two black cookies held together by a delicious white center. King Cuz asks him if he brought enough for everyone. The slaves held the very beginnings of colonization together with their labor just like the cookies are doing.
From what I’ve heard, there has been quite a bit of controversy over this novel and I can clearly see why. I definitely won’t be handing this book over to my best friends in the near future because they’re so conservative, but I do still give this novel praise. Despite all of the criticism, I think there is plenty of evidence why it was the winner of the Man Booker Award. Paul Beatty thought outside of the box to write this novel and I think that’s the kind of writing that the world needs. Sure cookie-cutter, feel good stories are nice, but they don’t resonate with us decades later. Speaking up, saying something different, even something a little crazy is good. It’s productive and it’s how things get done and progress. So what if this novel makes people uncomfortable, nothing gets done in the comfort zone.