I guess I’ve been in a blogging slump lately because I’ve been doing everything possible to avoid typing up book reviews, and I’m not exactly enthused to do other posts either. I don’t know why this is, but if it wasn’t for Wyrd & Wonder (and an ARC I need to review), I probably wouldn’t be doing much on my blog. As such, I’m WAY behind on reviews. Here’s the beginning of my attempt to catch up.
I read Black Buck in mid-March — that’s how long I’ve been procrastinating on writing up this reflection on it. It’s one of the most surprising books I’ve read this year. I read it for a bookclub I’m part of with two friends. However, my friends were more eager than I to read it. Actually, I was very against reading this book. I didn’t know much about it other than that it’s about some guy working on Wall Street and that fact alone made me immediately dislike it and assume I would hate it and probably not even finish the book. I didn’t want to put myself through that torture. But I was so wrong.
Contemporary; Humor – satire
For fans of Sorry to Bother You and The Wolf of Wall Street—a crackling, satirical debut novel about a young man given a shot at stardom as the lone Black salesman at a mysterious, cult-like, and wildly successful startup where nothing is as it seems.
There’s nothing like a Black salesman on a mission.
An unambitious twenty-two-year-old, Darren lives in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with his mother, who wants nothing more than to see him live up to his potential as the valedictorian of Bronx Science. But Darren is content working at Starbucks in the lobby of a Midtown office building, hanging out with his girlfriend, Soraya, and eating his mother’s home-cooked meals. All that changes when a chance encounter with Rhett Daniels, the silver-tongued CEO of Sumwun, NYC’s hottest tech startup, results in an exclusive invitation for Darren to join an elite sales team on the thirty-sixth floor.
After enduring a “hell week” of training, Darren, the only Black person in the company, reimagines himself as “Buck,” a ruthless salesman unrecognizable to his friends and family. But when things turn tragic at home and Buck feels he’s hit rock bottom, he begins to hatch a plan to help young people of color infiltrate America’s sales force, setting off a chain of events that forever changes the game.
Black Buck is a hilarious, razor-sharp skewering of America’s workforce; it is a propulsive, crackling debut that explores ambition and race, and makes way for a necessary new vision of the American dream. (Goodreads)
Few summaries on Goodreads do a good job of giving an overview of what a novel is about, but this one does. If you didn’t read it, Black Buck is Askaripour’s debut novel. It’s a dark satire about a young Black man from Brooklyn named Darren who is content with his life and his job as a manager at a Starbucks in Manhattan. However, his mom and close family friends, including his girlfriend, urges him to reach for something more, especially since he has the potential to be successful — he was the valedictorian of Bronx High School of Science.
One day, he takes a chance and impresses the CEO of the tech startup Sumwun who offers him a job. Reluctant to work at the company, Darren gives in at the urging of his family and friends and becomes the only Black person working at Sumwun, where he endures a “’hell week’ of training,” which culminates in Darren “reimaging” himself as Buck, a nickname given to him during his hell week, and becoming a successful but ruthless salesman at Sumwum.
Surprisingly (to me), I was hooked the entire time I read this book. I wouldn’t say that I liked it because it was an uncomfortable read that frustrated and angered me the entire time I read and even after I completed it. But it was a good read and one I would recommend.
As the flap of the book states, this one will appeal to fans of the movies Sorry to Bother You and The Wolf of Wall Street. It taps into similar topics and situations featured in both of those movies and has a similar biting humor. Like Sorry to Bother You, it features a Black main character who buys into the ideology of his company (Darren’s so hooked on their kool-aid that he’s swimming in it) and is recreated in its image. The process, the hell week, was uncomfortable to read. Darren is belittled and endures several racial microaggressions as he struggles through hell week, which pissed me off as I read. By that point, I realized that I couldn’t read this book at night because it took me forever to fall asleep afterward because my mind kept buzzing. After such belittlement to engrain the company’s philosophy into him, I was urging Darren to just quit, but it was painful and sad to see what he becomes after, this Buck person. I refuse to call him that.
I was proved both right and wrong regarding my assumptions prior to reading the book. I assumed that I wouldn’t like it, and I was right. The story was too uncomfortable a read to say that I liked it. However, I was also wrong. I may not have liked the story, but the way Askaripour wrote it and had the character relay it appealed to me. I liked that the story’s format is like one of those self-help memoirs. From the moment you crack the book open, you encounter Darren’s voice as he reflects on his life. He’s the one chatting in the Author’s Note, not Askaripour. There are even tips throughout to help the reader become a skilled salesperson like Darren did. Basically, Darren’s life is the example he uses to teach his readers how to sell.
“Reader: What you are about to see is what happens when intuition overrides logic, which is the mark of any salesperson worth their salt. People buy based on emotion and justify with reason. Watch.”
Although the jacket flap and the Goodreads summary claim that the story is hilarious, it wasn’t so to me. Just because it’s a satire doesn’t mean that it’ll be funny, and I don’t think any part of it was intended to be funny. I think the intention is to sharply critique aspects of current society by exaggerating certain things.
So, although I didn’t like the story and found the protagonist unlikeable even though he tries to redeem himself at some point, I do admire how the story is told and was surprised at how hooked I was as I read. I think Askaripour did a great job here, so I’ll have an eye out for whatever he drops next.
Definitely recommend it. It’s a good read.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I’m not sure yet if this is one I’ll want to reread, which is how I make my Buy vs. Borrow decisions, but I think it’s worth having a copy.
Quotes from the book
“Reader: If you are a Black man, the key to any white person’s heart is the ability to shuck, jive, or freestyle. But use it wisely and sparingly. Otherwise you’re liable to turn into Steve Harvey.”
Lol! Okay, okay. Some of these advice things were a little funny.