The Book Shelf

A Review: Black Buck

This month Leah invites us into the fascinating world of telesales through 'Black Buck', Mateo Askaripour's debut novel.

I’m happy to inform you from the get go that yes, this book is just as bold as it’s title suggests. My first thoughts when Black Buck arrived on my doorstep were along the lines of ‘does he mean buck as in money?’ ‘does he mean buck as in a male bull?’ ‘Jesus, isn’t black buck a derogatory slur used for black men that derives from slavery???????’ In a sense the answer to all of those question is ‘yep, absolutely’. Mateo Askaripour is making reference to all of these ideas at once. That being said, the answer is also ‘nope’, Askaripour is adding a whole new definition to the words Black Buck and in this particular instance it’s simply a nickname given to our perpetually conflicted protagonist Darren.

Once you get over the eye catching title, get ready to carve out a good few nights of binge reading. Press decline on a boring calendar invites, sack of your second cousin’s 16th birthday, and tell your pals you’ve been pinged so you have to self-isolate for a couple of days. My point is, once you’re in this book, you are IN this book. Neck deep in the drama of it all. Whether you like it or not you have to get to the bottom of exactly what the heck has gone down.

This is Mateo Askaripour’s debut novel and it’s like he said ‘you know what? In case this is my first and last, I’m going to include all the things! I’m going to push it to the limit, the publishers can’t un-sign this contract.’ And I mean that as the highest of compliments. In my opinion the gutsy nature of this unflinchingly audacious book has confirmed that Askaripour is absolutely not going to be a one hit wonder.

So what makes Black Buck such a gripping read?

It tells the story of Darren a young black man living with his Ma’ in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn surrounded by a whole cast of colourful characters. From Mr Aziz who owns the local bodega and happens to be the father of Darren’s girlfriend Soraya (who by the way has the patience of a saint and deserves a medal), to the street wise side walk oracle Wally Cat whose life mantra is ‘never f*ck a snow bunny’. He works at Starbucks, he keeps his customers and staff happy and he’s contentedly coasting through life until his steady train to averageville is interrupted by an obnoxious white salesman who is convinced Darren can be the next big thing. From the moment Darren Vender (the irony of his surname literally meaning seller was not lost on me by the way) meets Rhett Daniels everything changes. Forever.

Black Buck has an incredible filmic quality that screams ‘Jordan Peele, adapt me for the big screen’. Hence why it has primarily been compared to movies so far. Wolf of Wall Street for it’s portrayal of the wildly hedonistic atmosphere of the sales floor – think a pet pig in the office for moral, brutal hazing rituals and a level of competitiveness that would even feel out of place in the olympic village. Sorry To Bother You for the elements of surrealism that creep in, and of course the fact they’re both stories of young black men fitting in to a predominately white sales space. And finally the 21st century yardstick with which we measure all black media because it is simply the gold standard: Get Out. In fact I spent most of the book pleading with Darren to ‘GET OUT’ of the Sumwun office as fast as physically possible.

Black Buck will make you laugh, it’ll make you cringe with second hand embarrassment, it’ll make you furious at everything from gentrification to the sheer amount of hoops black people must jump through just for a seat at the table (or a desk in the office in this case). And, Black Buck will make you sad. You’ll be saddened by the tragedy that Darren faces, saddened as you see a slightly lost young man lose himself further as he strives to better himself and it’ll just make you sad at the sorry state of the ruthless capitalistic society we live in.

Today I willI award Black Buck 4 bookworms out of 5!

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