BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Five More to Go: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black [in The Booklist Reader]

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s dozen stories are disturbingly spectacular, made even more so by how he magnifies and exposes the truth. On first reading, the collection might register as speculative fiction, but current headlines about racism, injustice, consumerism, and senseless violence prove to be clear inspirations. Adjei-Brenyah grabs immediate attention with “The Finkelstein 5,” in which a white man uses “a chain saw to hack off the heads of five black children” outside a South Carolina library. The killer’s acquittal sparks revenge attacks, eventually luring the story’s protagonist, a teenager who works hard to keep his “Blackness” in the lowest digits of a 10-point scale, to further tragedy. Other resonating standouts include “Zimmer Land,” in which clients pay for “interactive justice engagement” in a race-based murder theme park, and the titular “Friday Black” which extrapolates Black Friday shopping mania into a casual bloodsport. Ominous and threatening, Adjei-Brenyah’s debut is a resonating wake-up call to redefine and reclaim what remains of our humanity.

Like Adjei-Brenyah, numerous writers of color have made recent fiction debuts with stupendous short story collections in which diverse identity – in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and orientation – unapologetically occupies the spotlight. Five examples of such resonating titles are offered here.


Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Humor – dark, scathing, even hand-over-mouth-shocking – abounds throughout Thompson-Spires’ disarming collection. Adroitly dodging assumptions, Thompson-Spires’ dozen stories feature a small college professor and his increasingly passive-aggressive interactions with a new office-mate, confrontational comic-con attendees, a woman carefully planning how best to announce her suicide on social media, an albino teen who has much to teach her new friend about being black, and more. Most memorable – and bitingly hysterical – is “Belle Lettres,” an escalating email exchange between the accomplished, self-congratulatory, and oh-so-badly-behaved mothers of two African American girls in a predominantly white private school.


Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

In varying parts sf/fantasy, celluloid-culture homage, dystopian or apocalyptic fiction, and even farce, Machado’s eight stories relentlessly defy labels. Women’s physical beings get shrunken in “Eight Bites” and erased in “Real Women Have Bodies.” Women lose agency in “The Husband Stitch” and “Difficult at Parties.” A woman must face sudden parenthood in “Mothers.” A fatal, worldwide plague gets parsed through an “Inventory” of a woman’s lovers. Twelve seasons of Law & Order: SVU get pixelated into 272 “Views” in “Especially Heinous.” And a writing residency turns horrific in “The Resident.” No body is safe.


How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs

Featuring Jamaicans who stayed on the island and others who left, have returned, or travel back and forth, Arthurs’ 11 stories reveal characters caught between cultures, searching for a sense of belonging and confronting displacement in order to survive. Two NYC students who couldn’t be more different despite a shared Jamaican heritage become best friends, until they aren’t. A man fathers a son he must keep secret. Jamaican women of all backgrounds reveal complicated relationships with their mothers. An overly Americanized girl is sent back to her grandmother to improve her “bad behavior.” A scholarship athlete finds her U.S. education haunted by a fellow international student’s murder.


If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel

You’ll glimpse Indian American stereotypes here – doctors and engineers, motel owners, demanding immigrant parents and rebellious progeny – but in these 11 stories, Patel subverts easy expectations with complicated characters facing difficult decisions, navigating challenging relationships, and living individual lives. A single woman whose connection with an online match has failed turns in desperation to the WiFi repairman. A wife-by-arranged-marriage confronts the woman she’s convinced is her husband’s mistress. A vicious comment about a brother’s lover leads to seemingly permanent estrangement. The final two stories explores both sides of a relationship that, for many reasons, can never last.


Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Lena Dunham – creator of HBO’s iconic series Girls – and her writing/producing partner Jenni Konner launched their Lenny imprint at Random House with Zhang’s Sour Heart. The collection features seven loosely linked, Chinese American immigrant stories told predominantly through the voices of, not surprisingly, girls. Some are Chinese-born transplants, some are American by birth, but all have parents who left everything familiar to start new lives on the other side of the world in New York City boroughs. Beyond the diverse details of each story is a universal shared experience: a longing for home, and a reckoning with the challenges – economic, social, familial, cultural – to finally getting there.

Published: “Five More to Go: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s FRIDAY BLACK,” The Booklist Reader, November 9, 2018


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