Words Into Action

The Sellout: A Novel BY Paul Beatty. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Hardcover, 304 pages. $26.

The cover of The Sellout: A Novel

I can't think of any book that documents the pre-11/9 moment more vividly and belligerently than Paul Beatty's satirical novel The Sellout (2015). Since Trump's election I have been imagining Beatty with his head in his hands somewhere, and I've been summoning him. His anger, humor, and sarcasm are exactly what we're going to need to get through the next however many years. Beatty's protagonist, in order to save his disappearing town, paints a three-inch-thick strip of white paint around its borders. We must do the same, for this is the hour for extreme measures. Time to build the bunker, fill it with sacks of rice. Use a sleeve to rub a clean spot on the porthole and look out. Nothing can save us, but you yourself can be saved. Don't do evil, do good. Mourn. Like Beatty, record the rage with a good dose of funny.

One day, eons from now, the cockroaches (who will have developed intelligence by then) will find Beatty's book and think of us and this moment: the breaking of the tablets. They will ponder the lessons we tried to leave behind. And while the super-cockroaches won't understand Beatty's book (it is so soaked in references, it is coded for us alone: He is our Horace), they will touch its cover with their antennae and feel it still pulsing.

Deb Olin Unferth's story collection Wait Till You See Me Dance will be published by Graywolf Press in March.