“Black Buck” by Mateo Askaripour

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.

Genre

Contemporary; Humor – satire

Series

n/a

Pubbed

January 2021

Goodreads summary

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)

My thoughts

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.

Overall: ★★★★☆

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.

34 thoughts on ““Black Buck” by Mateo Askaripour

  1. I really want to read this but am still not sure if the Wall Street setting is for me. I’m trying to get my husband to read it on audio book and let me know what I’d think of it (he’s useful like that). Your review is helping me tend towards it, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🤣 Your comment made me chuckle a bit because the Wall Street setting was why I didn’t want to read it at first as well. I thought I wouldn’t like it. But, surprisingly, it worked out. I couldn’t put the book down. I recently had my brother read it too and he’s not a big reader but he completed it in 2 days.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope it goes well for you, but expect to be frustrated and probably angry at times in certain parts. It’s a really good read but the discomfort turned some folks off.

      Like

  2. I fully understand about periodic slumps. I think most of us go through them, and as you said we sometimes don’t have any idea why. As for the book, I really enjoy when a book can surprise us like this. And I find it fascinating how you didn’t enjoy it, per se, but appear to have gotten enough out of it that you don’t regret reading it. I’m not exactly sure what to call that sort of feeling, but I get it. For a very different sort of example, there’s a Japanese animated movie called Grave of the Fireflies that I have very mixed feelings of. I can’t say I liked the story because it was very difficult to watch. But I thought it was an extraordinary movie and I’m so very happy to have watched it. And yet I don’t know that I’ll ever want to watch it again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Same. I find it very interesting when this happens, when I encounter a work that fascinates me/that I admire but don’t exactly like/enjoy.

      Like

  3. I have this on my TBR list – it intrigues me enough to try it. I know what you mean about satire – it’s not often laugh out loud funny. Anyway, hope your blog slump improves – I get you, I only am writing a post about once every ten days to two weeks.

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    1. I’d be interested in seeing your thoughts on it if you do read it. A good bit of folks gave up on it but it is a good read.
      Thanks! Hopefully we both get back into the blogging vibe soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review! I’ve seen the cover before, but yours is the first review I’ve actually read, and you definitely make me interested! As for the slump… I feel ya. It’s hard to keep momentum and stay motivated — often! — and I’ve definitely been having my “what’s the point?” moments recently. But just know that your blogging friends appreciate you and what you do!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aww thank you! ☺️ I appreciate the encouragement.
      And I’d be very interested in seeing what you think of this book if you read it.

      Like

    1. I totally get that. Despite how angry and frustrated I felt, I believe the author intentionally wrote the book to make the reader uncomfy, which is why I think this is a good read. I’d certainly recommend that you try it. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting! This sounds like an uncomfortable read, and yet it seems it was rewarding after all – just not in the way you imagined.

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  6. I’m sorry to hear about your blogging slump! I hope things click and you rediscover your joy in blogging. This is definitely an interesting book, and I like your transparency about how you disliked Black Buck but were simultaneously engrossed in reading it; it can be hard to describe a situation like that sometimes. For me, I don’t think I’ll be picking this up — the way Darren is indoctrinated into his salesperson job sounds incredibly cult-like and would make me REALLY uncomfortable — but I enjoyed reading your review nonetheless! Your reviews are always incredibly… readable, if that makes sense? As in, your style of writing is conversational and easy to follow, and you’re thorough with all of the different aspects of the book. You did a great job here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thank you. I appreciate the kind words 🙂
      It was a bit cult-like, so if that makes you uncomfy, I suggest steering clear of this one. I forgot to mention in the review that the WeWork documentary on Hulu reminded me strongly of the culture of the startup in this book. It made me wonder where the author got the inspiration for it.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m also going through a weird blogging thing right now, literally forcing myself to write up reviews and posts. Once in a while I get this feeling like “what even is the point of blogging??” Eventually I get over it but I totally get you. The book sounds really interesting, but I think it would make me mad too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve had the same thought about blogging. Must be something in the air making us feel like that this. I know a couple others who also feel the same. So far, not forcing myself too much is best because then I’ll really turn away from blogging.

      Like

  8. I’m really looking forward to this one; I’ve been on the hold list for awhile (but nearer the top now–s’ok, lots to read in the meantime, of course). Your response to the book (both before and after reading it–isn’t it fun when we are surprised out of our own resistance?) reminds me a little of how I felt about Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, which also has (as you’ll have guessed from the title) a link with the self-help industry and is a sharp critique of capitalism and the relentless and insatiable quest to acquire and accumulate and consume. These smart and funny writers are just amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

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