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Black Buck


Black Buck

Hilarious, satirical and razor-sharp, Mateo Askaripour’s debut novel is a can’t-miss riot of over-the-top breakdown of the world of corporate America.

Written in the tone of a self-help book and memoir, BLACK BUCK introduces readers to a Black man on a mission. When we meet Darren, he has grown complacent with his role in the world, taking pride in his work at Starbucks and his flourishing relationship with his long-term girlfriend, Soraya, but not rising to the full potential that she and his mother see in him. Once the valedictorian of a prestigious school, Darren is now “waiting for the right opportunity,” which even he can tell you is code for “too afraid to try and fail.” But when he takes a chance hand-selling a new drink to Rhett Daniels, a Starbucks regular, his whole life opens up.

Rhett is the CEO of Sumwun, the hottest new tech startup in New York City. Attractive, hard-partying and charismatic, he prides himself on selling the one thing everyone wants: a vision for the future, an opportunity to live their lives to the fullest. In other words, he sells dreams, and with a little reverse psychology and a killer closer, he gets Darren hook, line and sinker.

"The twists and turns of Buck’s career journey are downright dizzying, always thrilling and often so over-the-top that they feel almost supernatural, but this is where Askaripour truly excels."

Before he knows it, Darren is being trained as a sales representative for Sumwun, which he learns is an app that pairs people who are struggling with “assistants,” untrained and homeopathic aides who help them turn their lives around. As the only Black person in the company, Darren faces the gauntlet of training exercises, hazing and downright racism. He endures brutal mock sales calls, wickedly cruel teasing and, finally, is given the nickname "Buck," as a nod to his lowly beginnings in a coffee shop and a vivid reminder that no matter how high he rises on the corporate ladder, there always will be colleagues who see him as “that Black guy who used to work at Starbucks.” As the only person of color in an office reeking of "old money and blood-splattered gallows," Buck attempts to play the game and finds that he is actually a natural salesman --- for better or for worse.

As Darren molds himself into the perfect salesman, he offers cheeky asides and sales tips, breaking the fourth wall and reminding readers that his dramatic change from a feckless young man you can really root for to a selfish, Jordan Belfort-esque wolf is all an act. Or is it? Using his own brand of know-how and sharp wit, Darren begins to make his mark on Sumwun and the tech world, blind as he is to the ways that corporate America is changing him.

With Rhett’s hold on him deepening, and his beloved mother and girlfriend begging him to remember his roots, Darren --- or Buck, if you will --- turns into a relentless antihero, a man who could sell ice to a polar bear. Although Buck initially seems aware that he is playing the game, it becomes harder and harder to reconcile the “Buck” act with the Darren who loves his mother and cherishes his girlfriend. With his new cynical nature, however, even the terrific support system behind him becomes another career hustle: the mother selling the dream of his potential, the girlfriend selling him love and sex.

In true antihero fashion, Buck soon finds himself begging --- albeit unknowingly --- to be smacked down to reality. But with the draws of greed and wealth fighting double time against the pains of loss and failure, it soon becomes clear that Buck’s freedom and Darren’s liberation will come at a tremendous cost.

BLACK BUCK is a powerhouse of a book, and my feelings about it changed rapidly as I read: I loved Darren, I hated Darren, I wanted him to sell me something, I wanted to turn him down. Mateo Askaripour draws sharply on the highest highs and lowest lows of corporate America, a fascinating microcosm of a world, and uses every insight and encounter to make a comment on the state of America itself. His gaze is unflinching, his prose is “blink and you’ll miss it” sharp, and his observations will be familiar to some but, I’ll wager, horrifying to others, particularly when it comes to his handling of race relations. Beyond skewering corporate America, Askaripour does a superb job of highlighting how painful and terrifying it is be an “other,” especially in a high-pressure environment. Through the gorgeous crafting of Darren’s mother and girlfriend, he highlights how easy it is to be led astray by money and the promise of the future.

The twists and turns of Buck’s career journey are downright dizzying, always thrilling and often so over-the-top that they feel almost supernatural, but this is where Askaripour truly excels. Satire is a difficult genre to master, as the message behind the humor must be clear and clever, but not so much as to distract from the show of it all. He manages to do all of this at once without ever taking a breath.

Whether you are hurting for Darren’s family, rolling your eyes at Rhett or praying for Buck’s freedom, BLACK BUCK will hit you where it hurts, and that’s the best sale of all.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on January 8, 2021

Black Buck
by Mateo Askaripour

  • Publication Date: January 18, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor, Satire
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0358627982
  • ISBN-13: 9780358627982