What’s it all about?:
In the stories of Adjei-Brenyah’s debut, an amusement park lets players enter augmented reality to hunt terrorists or shoot intruders played by minority actors, a school shooting results in both the victim and gunman stuck in a shared purgatory, and an author sells his soul to a many-tongued god.
Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage, and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day. These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world.
What did I think?:
This review comes with a huge thank you to Quercus Books whom at a recent “Word-Of-Mouth Bestsellers Evening” kindly provided me with a copy of this book in a fun little “blind date,” where the book was wrapped up in standard brown paper with a few teasing pieces of information on the front to suggest what might be inside. If you follow me on Instagram/Twitter you might have already seen what was there but for those of you who don’t I’ll just mention it here briefly because it was what was said on the front that made me desperate to find out exactly what the package contained. Endorsed by both Roxane Gay and George Saunders (if this isn’t accolade enough in itself?) it was described as being “a punchy short story collection examining racial injustice in modern America.” Buzzfeed also called it “Black Mirror-esque.” With these two exhilarating statements I knew I was in for something very unique and noteworthy and once I opened it and was faced with that stunning cover design and a synopsis that knocked my socks off I knew that I was a very lucky girl indeed and this collection was going to be nothing short of monumental.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of the short story collection, Friday Black.
So, I had already suspected that I was in for a wild ride with this collection but even then, I still wasn’t fully prepared for the journey it would take me on both emotionally and intellectually. I don’t want to talk about any individual story too much and ruin the pleasure other readers are going to get from this astounding debut but it’s honestly one of those books where after you read it, you feel a little changed as a person. The collection opens in the most gut-wrenching and shocking manner with a story called The Finkelstein 5 (possibly my favourite story of them all) and to give you an idea of the personal impact on me I’ll give you a taster of the first few lines:
“Fela, the headless girl, walked toward Emmanuel. Her neck jagged with red savagery. She was silent, but he could feel her waiting for him to do something, anything.”
You know when you start reading something and you get this instinct that what you’re about to witness in the form of devouring these words is going to be incredible and unforgettable? That’s what The Finkelstein 5 was for me and it was impossible to resist as soon as I had read that outrageous (but brilliant!) first paragraph. From this first story onwards, each of the other tales stands on their own individually and proudly as a true testament to the sheer strength and beauty of Adjei-Brenyah’s writing style. Many stories verge on the dystopian and fantastical but frighteningly, many of them actually feel realistic. It’s easy to imagine these horrific instances of racism, prejudice and brutality occurring if the technology mentioned in one particular story – “Zimmer Land” is used in a malicious way to justify abhorrent racist attitudes.
One of the stories in this collection, Friday Black imagines the retail event Black Friday in a particularly violent fashion. This particular image I discovered from Black Friday 2017 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
I had a sneaky suspicion that I was going to adore Friday Black and I wasn’t wrong. It’s fairly rare that I feel inspired to tweet, especially after a short story but in this case, The Finkelstein 5 had such an enormous impact on me I immediately had to tell the whole world about it. It was so powerful in both its scope and intensity that I couldn’t fail to be affected and was the perfect way to begin a staggeringly good collection. Yes, there’s always the worry that the following stories won’t live up to the brilliance of the first but I was delighted to discover that almost every single tale afterwards left some sort of footprint in my mind.
I was completely prepared to be moved, haunted and dumbfounded but I wasn’t expecting things to get so emotional and there was a particular story – “Lark Street” that absolutely destroyed me and left me a sobbing mess. I really can’t say anymore but if any regular readers are aware of my personal struggles the past eighteen months or so, I’m sure you’ll understand. Amidst this devastation however, I couldn’t help but be in complete awe of this writer’s talent, his ability with words, his imagination and creativity and the way in which he managed to make me feel so much, in very different ways with each of his stories. Thought-provoking and highly original, this is short story collection you really can’t afford to miss!
Published by riverrun publishers, an imprint of Quercus Books, Friday Black is out NOW.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):