For What It's Worth

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Review: Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

 

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.

Source: Libro.fm in exchange for an honest review

Review: I had such a wild reading experience with Black Buck. Thanks to narrator, Zeno Robinson, I was all in on Darren (Buck) and whatever he wanted to do. He’s just a solid, unassuming, all around good guy and master Starbucks barista. He was also valedictorian and both his mom and girlfriend, Soraya, see great things for him if he would only push himself but he’s mostly satisfied with his life the way it is.

His big break comes one day when Rhett Daniels, CEO of the hot start up Sumwun, comes in to get his coffee and Darren persuades him to change his regular drink. Rhett sees the same thing his mom and Soraya do in Darren and makes an offer he can’t refuse.

At first, Darren and the reader, have no clue what Sumwun actually does and that’s intentional. The author wants you to get caught up in the initial confusion, energy and eventual success of Darren, now nicknamed Buck (for Starbucks obviously) without making judgements about the company or it's mission.

First Buck has to endure “hell week”. It’s a week of intense training – making cold calls to sell the company product (which I won’t spoil here). It’s as bad as you would expect a hell week to be with the added racism Buck endures as Sumwun’s only Black employee.

I had a seriously hard time stomaching a lot of this. Between the corporate hard sell tactics, the bullying of the employees and the racism – it’s not an environment I could ever see myself staying at. I understood why Buck did. He’s trying to make his mom proud while his Black elders keep telling him to endure and not let the white men win.

Buck does endure and rises through the ranks but not without great personal costs. He becomes a salesman and gets absorbed into the Sumwun tech company culture, money and all that comes with it.

His old neighborhood sees him as a sellout while his new corporate friends use him as needed both because he’s good and to boost their diversity cred whenever they are in trouble.

Meteoric rises lead to meteoric falls and Buck’s is no exception. This is when Black Buck takes a turn and has Darren flipping the script and using his sales techniques and everything he’s learned to help uplift his Bed-Stuy community. 

The story takes a bit of a weird turn here and I’m not really sure I liked it. Or anyone in the book (other than Soraya, his mom and one or two other people). Black Buck is provocative at times and rooted in reality but also went off the deep end a bit (or maybe not with the way the world is right now). However, Buck’s never-ending…not quite optimism - but pragmatic - look at life and his ability to *close the sale* and pick himself back up to change his own narrative kept me captivated until the end.

Black Buck was a bit of a mixed bag and it's final message (while valid) really had very little to do with anything prior but I can’t think of a better book for a book club. Between the complicated characters and the societal/ethical issues it confronts the reader with, I can see this being quite polarizing but also an eye opening, cautionary tale.

CW: Racism, bullying of different characters including one with tourettes syndrome, illness, death,  violence, drug use and probably more but just to warn you before you go in.

23 comments:

  1. This book is so funny! I've read a few pages of it and can't wait to get back into it! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. It started out VERY funny! The tone really changes (even though I think Buck always has that sense of humor). I'm curious to hear what you think after you finish.

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  2. I've heard mixed things about this one. Thanks for explaining why people call him Buck. I've been so confused! LOL

    -lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. I can see people both loving and hating this one Lauren lol

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  3. "He was also valedictorian and both his mom and girlfriend, Soraya, see great things for him if he would only push himself but he’s mostly satisfied with his life the way it is." And a master Starbucks barista too. :) This sounds like a lot of fun! It does sound like it gets a bit crazy at the end, or at least off the wall. I can see this being a fun to talk about book...

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    1. It's been described as satire although the author sort of refutes that label. I can see why people might think that but most it was real life?? So not so much satire.

      For example - a lot of white people say he looks like various famous black people like Malcom X, Sidney Poitier. It's a running joke and I guess could be considered satire but it happens a lot in real life.

      But things get out of hand with something later on and I thought it could be too out there but maybe not considering the times we're living in lol

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  4. Hm, I'm not sure this is one for me, but I can see it being pretty thought-provoking. I'd probably end up ragey at Sumwun and frustrated with Buck, even if his decisions seemed justified and understandable.

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    1. It is most definitely thought provoking but so many people do bad things that it could be difficult to read at times.

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  5. I can't say it seems like one for me

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    1. Probably not. It's not my usual read either but I got it through an audio arc program.

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  6. Wow this sounds like a lot. When I first started reading your review, I thought it had a sci-fi edge.

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    1. No, not at all. It was funny a lot of the time but also difficult at other times.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You have piqued my interest, so I'm going to add it to Goodreads! πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ I am super curious how I will feel about it. πŸ“š

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    1. I can honestly understand any conflicting thoughts with this one. Let me know if you read it.

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  8. Probably not my kind of book. Sometimes I like to read different things but I don't think this is it.

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    1. It's not for everyone. It's not even MY kind of book lol

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  9. I'm not sure this one would be a good fit for me (and my computer isn't showing me an image/cover), but I enjoyed your review. :) I have a hard time picturing someone reimaging themselves into a cruel, unrecognizable person. I would still want them to be themselves, you know? I also struggle with books that have unlikeable characters, so.

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? πŸ’¬

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  10. Also, I have no idea when you changed it, but I love your blog header! Super cute.

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    1. Thank you! It's been a few weeks I think.

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  11. Interesting... I have been hearing a lot about this book and I do think it is one I want to try and get to eventually. It's so sad what so many people have to face in the workplace... And it sounds like this book does a good job of showing that. Even if the ending was a bit iffy for you.

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    1. A lot of people called it satire but I think it's reality - and I believe the author said the same thing.

      It was a very thought provoking book though.

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