Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I struggled with my feelings about this book from the very beginning, and while I hoped that these feelings would resolve themselves by the end, they did not. One of my biggest struggles was trying to reconcile what I was reading with its categorization as satire. While there were certainly some cute and clever satirical elements, this text fell short of being a cohesive satire for me. Was there comedy? Yes, there were definitely parts that I laughed it. Were there outlandish moments? Certainly. Did I feel like the story's exaggerations produced some profound cultural or structural critique? Not particularly. Especially since some of the most "outlandish" parts felt too realistic while some of the more comedic parts fell flat.
I'd categorize this book as a dark comedy with satirical elements, because reading this novel with the constraints of satire in mind caused me to have expectations that weren't fulfilled and which might've actually caused me to enjoy the book less than I would've otherwise. I was expecting the novel to push the envelope in ways that were more meaningful. I also had moments where I struggled to parse out what precisely was being satirized, as any overarching sociocultural critique that I could glean from the novel was contradicted in some way or another by other plot points that would reinforce the very things that I thought were being critiqued. I had too many moments where I was thinking "okay... but what's the point?" when maybe I should've just been accepting what the author was presenting at face value.
Part of what contributed to my frustration might've been the fact that the story is narrated by its protagonist, Darren "Buck" Vender. He is unabashedly narcissistic and fancies himself as some sort of savior, attempting to justify the compromising of his integrity and the alienation of his loved ones by saying he's doing it for Black folk. This narcissism and self-delusion extends itself to how he views and relates to the other characters, all of whom felt more like one-dimensional caricatures than actual people. As a reader, this prevented me from connecting to any of the characters in any meaningful way, which is a shame because I definitely was not feeling Buck.
I think we're supposed to believe that Buck's cushy new Manhattan sales job is what "changed" him into this terrible person, and that his actions towards the end were supposed to be redemptive somehow, but I wasn't convinced of this. Buck tries to sell himself to us as a man on a mission to create some sort of substantive social change, but I wasn't buying what he was selling. The overwhelming majority of his actions were driven by self-interest, and to believe that he all of a sudden makes a decidedly "noble" decision in the end didn't track for me.
The novel is fast-paced and full of action, maybe a little too much to be honest. The ending felt contrived and unoriginal, and I finished the novel feeling somewhat unfulfilled. A lot of stuff happened but none of it was meaningful. I can see where the author was trying to go with this novel, and while I don't feel like this was a futile attempt, I think the hype and the insistence on this book being categorized as a satire might've hurt this book more than it helped. Maybe with a different set of expectations I would've cringed less and laughed more. Maybe this was a storyline that would've translated better for me on screen rather than through text.
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