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Black buck
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Fiction/Biography Profile
Darren (Male), African American, Darren gets a job in sales; deals with corporate culture as he climbs up the corporate ladder
Salesmen and salesmanship
Corporate culture
Time Period
2000s -- 21st century
Trade Reviews
Library Journal Review
DEBUT In Greek mythology, the overconfident Icarus sails gloriously through the heavens on magnificent wings of wax, rising too close to the sun and becoming painfully reacquainted with Earth. Darren Vender requires no wings of wax or even hubris to accomplish his great fall, which is the essential problem with this ambitious debut novel, drawn partly from the author's life. The story begins with a promising premise: Darren is a highly intelligent but underachieving Black barista at Starbucks. He is satisfied with his life but is constantly urged by his mother to make something of himself. And here is where the narrative begins to wobble off the rails. The story goes through several sudden and implausible changes of direction. Darren is transformed without warning into a super-salesman, soon working to help other Black salespeople, and other characters change without explanation or credible transition, from innocent bystanders to hunter-predator types. A novel that begins to carry forward the spirit of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities fizzles with a painfully contrived ending that reminds one of the unbelievably tortured (but hilarious) ending of Tootsie--but without the hilarity. VERDICT Worthy evidence of potential yet to be fulfilled, and we look forward to the time that potential is realized.--Michael Russo, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge
Publishers Weekly Review
Askaripour eviscerates corporate culture in his funny, touching debut. Darren, a young Black man, lives with his mom in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood and manages a midtown Manhattan Starbucks. He's content with his life and girlfriend, Soraya, but people tell him he could do more--he was valedictorian at Bronx Science, after all. Opportunity knocks when Darren persuades Rhett Daniels, the CEO of tech startup Sumwun and a Starbucks regular, to change his usual order. Rhett is impressed (his response: "Did you just try to reverse close me?") and invites Darren to an interview, which leads to a sales job before he understands what the company actually does (it's a platform for virtual therapy sessions). Darren makes good money, but struggles to keep up his commitments to his family and Soraya as Rhett pulls him into heavy after-hours partying. When an employee in China is charged with murder, Sumwun crashes, and so does Darren's life. In an author's note, Askaripour suggests the book is meant to serve as a manual for aspiring Black salesmen, and the device is thrillingly sustained throughout, with lacerating asides to the reader on matters of race. ("The key to any white person's heart is the ability to shuck, jive, or freestyle. But use it wisely and sparingly.") Darren, meanwhile, is alternately said by various white characters to resemble Malcolm X, Sidney Poitier, MLK, and Dave Chappelle, while he struggles to hold onto a sense of self, which the author conveys with a potent blend of heart and dramatic irony. Askaripour is always closing in this winning and layered bildungsroman. (Jan.)
Booklist Review
The opening chapter of this extraordinary, satirical first novel is an author's note penned by Darren, the protagonist. In it, he writes, "there is nothing like a Black salesman on a mission" and begins to tell the story of how he, as a directionless twentysomething living with his mother in Brooklyn and working in a midtown Starbucks, became that man. After being recruited as the only Black employee at Sumwun, a questionable start-up with a bizarre, cult-like atmosphere (replete with daily chanting), Darren is quickly christened Buck and absorbed into the increasingly high-pressure and often racist inner workings of the company. While he tries to square his growing discomfort in his new role in this strange, morally dubious workplace with the expectations of his family and friends, tragedy strikes, and Darren secretly begins a rival start-up focusing not only on training people of color to enter the white world of elite sales but also to revolutionize the industry. Askaripour has created a skillfully written, biting, witty, and absurdist novel that sheds light on racism, start-up culture, corporate morality, media bias, gentrification, and many other timely, important themes. Askaripour is an author to watch.
Kirkus Review
A first novel satirically lays out the wretched excesses of turn-of-the-21st-century capitalism as it both enriches and disfigures a bright young Black man's coming-of-age. Darren Vender is a 22-year-old product of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood who graduated first in his class at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science but passed on college and is quite happy with his life as a barista at a ground-floor Starbucks on Park Avenue. His life changes on the morning he decides to flash some impromptu genius to a charismatic suit named Rhett Daniels by convincing him to buy a different drink from the one he ordered. "Did you just try to reverse close me?" a flabbergasted Daniels asks before offering Darren a job with a startup sales company called Sumwun located several stories above the coffee shop. Reluctantly, Darren agrees and soon finds himself sharing a lofty, turbulent office suite with several tightly wound Type A White strivers obsessed with closing deals, pleasing Rhett, and rising higher within the company. Because Darren is the first and only African American employee, he has to endure being told by Rhett and other Whites how much he resembles Martin Luther King Jr., Morgan Freeman, Dave Chappelle, and other Black notables who resemble each other hardly at all. He emerges from rigorous, emotionally bruising indoctrination to become a high-octane fast-tracker among Sumwun's army of sales tyros--and that's when the money and fame start flowing into Darren's life along with several layers of trouble, much of it coming when Darren struggles to accommodate his newfound prosperity to the life, along with the family and friends, he's left behind in Brooklyn. As Darren himself puts it at one point, "The turns in this story are half-absurd, half jaw-dropping, and a whole heaping of crazy." And, one might add, borderline corny and secondhand in narrative tactics, too. Still, even with its drolly deployed nuggets of sales tips directed at the reader throughout the narrative, the book's biggest selling point is the writing: witty, jazzily discursive, and rhythmically propulsive. This whole novel comes across like a brash, in-your-face sales pitch leavened with punchy, go-for-broke mother-wit. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Syndetics Unbound
A New York Times Bestseller

A Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick!

Longlisted for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize

"Askaripour closes the deal on the first page of this mesmerizing novel, executing a high wire act full of verve and dark, comic energy."

--Colson Whitehead, author of The Nickel Boys

"A hilarious, gleaming satire as radiant as its author. Askaripour has announced himself as a major talent of the school of Ralph Ellison, Paul Beatty, Fran Ross, and Ishmael Reed. Full of quick pacing, frenetic energy, absurd--yet spot on--twists and turns, and some of the funniest similes I've ever read, this novel is both balm and bomb."

--Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of Heads of the Colored People

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.
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