REVIEW: Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

In brief: Buck used to be Darren, who worked at Starbucks. Now as Buck, he’s an elite salesman who notices that are no people of colour in his office. So why not hatch a plan to infiltrate America’s sales force…

The good: Some very funny moments.

The not-so-good: Sometimes the jumps forward in time felt abrupt.

Why I chose it: Sounded like fun. Thanks to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2021

Pages: 388

Publisher: John Murray (Hachette)

Setting: New York

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

A barista who hates coffee. That’s how we are introduced to Darren, an intelligent young man who to his family and friends seems to be going nowhere. But Black Buck is written by Buck, Darren’s super savvy alter ego who made it to the top of the sales world. Here, Buck explains to the reader how you too can make it to the top when it comes to selling. But what he also tells you is that nothing is quite what it seems.

Black Buck is part satire, part cautionary tale and part coming of age mixed in with some crazily wild rides. Darren is happy with his job at Starbucks, but everyone from his mother to his girlfriend is pressuring him that he could be so much more. He’s smart and when he puts his mind to it, he can sell anything to anyone. So when he tries to change the mind of one of his regular customers – and succeeds – the customer is impressed. Rhett also happens to be one half of the start-up Sumwun and offers Darren a job. Thinking that this could please everyone else, Darren takes the job and is reinvented as Buck. The training is humiliating and racist, and Buck realises that he’s the only Black person in the office. As Buck’s star rises, he forgets what grounded him until friends of his past come asking for help. He starts teaching other people of colour the secrets of selling and their underground group soon comes to blows with another, creating chaos.

Black Buck is a mix of many plots and occasionally genres and for the most it works well. The coming-of-age plot as Darren grows into Buck, loses his way and then finds it again is well done. Buck becomes almost repulsive at times as he loses his way and brushes off his family and friends, but is redeemed to the reader somewhat by the reflections of Future Buck knowing this is wrong. Future Buck offering wise words and sales tips as he tells his story is an inventive part of the plot and worth a chuckle or two. The satire was hit and miss for me at times. The warring groups taking to New York’s parks for a combative bake sale was amusing, but some of the over-the-top parts of the Sumwun office fell flat for me. Perhaps it was because these were interspersed with extreme, deliberate racist behaviour towards Buck which was really uncomfortable. Buck’s reactions were too, as he knows that even though it’s right to fight, he’s going to be seen as the bad guy because of his race. Buck as a character is flawed as he mixes good person with selfishness and a loss of principles. The ending is a nice way of linking Buck back to Darren again.

Sometimes the big jumps in the narrative, such as from Buck the junior seller to Buck the super seller were hard to settle into. I know that they were necessary to encompass the whole story, but it took a while to get my head round what had happened in the meantime. Buck’s first-person narrative and easy way of engaging the reader helped. I note that in Mateo Askaripour’s acknowledgements that he says the next book will be completely different, and I can’t wait to see what happens. Buck’s story was a wild ride and I’m here for the next journey.

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