CBR #13 – Imitators Idolize, I Intimidate

The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty

Once again, the library prevails.  In anticipation of the release of The Sellout, I decided to check out The White Boy Shuffle, a faux semi-autobiographical and yet completely fictitious coming of age tale from the LA poet laureate I was not disappointed.  You don’t so much as read this book as let it hit you in the face.  It’s angry, sarcastic, beautiful, spiteful, racist, vindictive, spot on.  It cuts like the samurai sword wielded by a shirtless gangbanger who swallowed too many Kung Fu Cinema viewings.  It’s an LA tale, a ghetto tale, a tale told by a muthafucking genius full of sound and fury and giving you the finger as it passes you on the 10.

I know I was missing points. You can’t get it all. You would literally have to have Paul Beatty’s upbringing.  He mocks LA culture, black culture, white culture, the perception of both, of gangs, of gangster, of gentrification, of just everything.  It’s sort of this insane pop-culture word salad that slings back and forth from urban to urbane so fast your head pops right the fuck off.  It’s riffing so much different shit on so many different levels you’ll catch whiplash.  Honestly, it’s like some sort of Jamba Juice concoction of Don Quixote, and Ralph Ellison, and Boyz N The Hood, and Shakespeare and Gulliver’s Travels.

Trying to plot it out and explain would do the book an injustice.  On the very base level, a mixed-race boy and his family are taken from their Venice Beach digs — where they were the only blacks in a sea of rich-surfers — to live in South Central LA where they are constantly abused and ground down by the culture and their own interpretation of it.  Even then, I’m cheating the fuck out of this story.  Beatty dances circles around you with his prose, which does get a little over the top. But his satire is fucking acidic, and it sprays on everything.  It’s an angry young man’s raging, but done through a man whose poesy can channel Aeschylus as well as Blackalicious.  And he weaves them expertly.

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