Black Buck is 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.
Black Buck is a witty satire and debut novel about race and work in the United States. This book is written as part sales manual, which breaks the fourth wall, and part memoir despite being entirely fiction. Mateo Askaripour successfully pulls off humor, exaggeration, and social commentary in order to create a successful satire.
Before you dive into Black Buck, you really must understand that this novel is satire and borders on absurdist satire. If you are looking for a book that takes itself seriously or is not a bit over-the-top, you should skip Black Buck.
Despite the satirical approach that Askaripour takes, I still understood his message and was left very uncomfortable at times. In fact, I became so angry, thanks to one character in particular, that I had to take a few breaks while reading it. The macroaggressions and microaggressions directed at Darren in the workplace were maddening. Even more frustrating was the other characters’ lack of reaction or action to these aggressions. While a bit exaggerated, I thought it was pretty accurate reflection of what BIPOC individuals experience in a lot of workplaces.
Askaripour is clearly a fantastic storyteller. The plot flowed well and was engrossing, although I found it predictable at times. However, Askaripour packed in a twist in the end that may shock some. I did not have any issue with the fact that Black Buck was a bit predictable, because the manner in which it is written made it feel fresh and new.
I did find the humor a bit juvenile, but that is not a new experience for me. I know from reading other reviews quite a few people found the book hilarious. I simply thought that comparisons like “sharper than Michael Jackson’s nose” or “colder than an Inuit’s titty” were ridiculous. But this did not take away from the story for me.
My largest critique of Black Buck was that it did not quite come full circle. Darren never addresses what else in workplaces need to change. Nor does Darren realize how he has internalized white America’s definition of success or the fact that he has become obsessed with “mastering” white supremist structures. Through most of the book, he defines success as the freedom that comes from winning the corporate game and becoming rich.
Overall, Black Buck is creative, engrossing, and a bit absurd. I have really never read another book quite like it. I really enjoyed the book. Both shocking and provocative, I would encourage reading Black Buck at least once.
January 5, 2021
Note: I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher, Mariner Books. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.