Paul Beatty's hilarious and scathing debut novel is about Gunnar Kaufman, an awkward, black surfer bum who is moved by his mother from Santa Monica to urban West Los Angeles. There, he begins to undergo a startling transformation from neighborhood outcast to basketball superstar, and eventually to reluctant messiah of a "divided, downtrodden people".
A bombastic coming-of-age novel that has the uncanny ability to make readers want to laugh and cry at the same time. Beatty mingles horrific reality with wild fancy in this remarkable debut novel.
Poet Beatty's (Big Bank Take Little Bank) first novel is a kaleidoscopic literary situation comedy about one unusual African American's search for identity within a wickedly caricatured American cultural and ethnic landscape. The protagonist, narrator Gunnar Kaufman, is the latest in a long and hilarious family line of groveling Uncle Toms and accommodating fools who must nevertheless confront racism with whatever talents or hustles they happen to have. The Kaufman family's "long cowardly queue of coons'' began in the 18th century with Euripides Kaufman (who purchased his freedom by charging people "to rub me head for good luck"); continued with Franz Von Kaufman ("exceedingly bootlicking even for a slave"); and included Gunnar's own despised and self-despising father, Rolf, a member of the LAPD noted for laughing uproariously at his white colleague's racist jokes. Though Beatty's exuberantly outrageous satire often veers into slapstick, he shows himself as an astute observer of the ubiquitous power of cultural stereotype and of the elasticity of identity and community. Alternately blocked by racist assumptions and a cultivated black insularity, Kaufman's passage to self-knowledge takes him from a childhood in affluent, mostly white Santa Monica (he was the cool black guy) to a sudden relocation to the pitiless black inner-city culture in L.A.'s gangbanging Hillside neighborhood and on to ever more absurd acclaim as a basketball prodigy and street-bred poet. Beatty has a gift for hyperbolic cartoon-like characterizations and poetic parody and a sharp ear for the vivid spoken-word poetry of hip hop and urban black slang. And although he's never met a corny joke he won't force on a reader, his language and outlandish characters combine to produce an extravagantly comic vision of the American cultural moment. Author tour.