Friday Black, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

37570595Reading Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s collection, Friday Black, was like sticking my finger in a light socket. The stories tackle so many hot-button issues—the murders of Black people by police officers and White people, abortion, neoliberalism, dangerously competitive consumerism—in such strong language that readers can’t hide from the truths they reveal about American society.

Some of the standouts from this collection include:

“The Finkelstein 5.” This story made me sit up and take notice. As the first story in the collection, “The Finkelstein 5” explores a possible response to the callous miscarriages of justice that allow White people to kill Black people with near impunity. The violence is dialed up to 11, to highlight the blatant racism that guides the process from seeing a Black person or group of Black people, to attacking the Black people, to trial, to acquittal. But this story adds a vengeful coda to the usual tale, in which Black people start killing White people while shouting the names of the Finkelstein 5, the five Black children murdered by a White man who was “frightened” and “trying to protect his children.”

“Zimmer Land.” In this story, Isaiah works at a twisted theme park that purports to help people pursue exploration of race and justice. What that means, no matter how Isaiah’s bosses dress it up in academic-sounding language, is that people of color are hired to be “murdered” by guests. The employees suit up in protective gear and blood squibs, where they are confronted over and over again by the White guests who pay to play out their fantasies of killing “terrorists” and “thugs.” Isaiah is asked over repeatedly why he still works there. The money is good, just good enough to stay invested in the system. Not far underneath the plot is a biting satire about how everyone plays into the violent status quo.

“Light Spitter.” I found this story the most puzzling of the collection. After one character murders another and kills himself, they become ghostly presences haunting the library where they died and the room of a boy who is contemplating becoming a mass murderer. Dierdra, the murder victim, will become an angel if she can do good deeds. Neither of them is sure why William, known as “Fuckton,” is there. He killed two people before he committed suicide. Both of them argue about how to help the potential mass murderer. Dierdra messes up at first with her gentle, do-gooder approach. In the end, murderer and victim have to work together to stop more deaths. The story tackles the question of how to stop mass murderers, but I’m not sure I can agree with its conclusions about how to do that. Also, it just seems cruel to trap Dierdra together with the boy who killed her.

“Lark Street.” While I was interested in the other stories in this collection, I did not like this story because of its treatment of abortion. The story raises a good point about the consequences of abortion, but I am staunchly pro-Choice. It’s a conflict of politics rather than the quality of the story.

For me, a White reader, reading these stories was like being invited to witness an experience of American and Black life that I only knew about academically or tangentially. Friday Black gave be a front-row seat to the profound, righteous fury felt by people of color for centuries. Even the stories set in the future reflects a deep frustration with the American status quo. Every story packs a emotional punch that angers, depresses, and illuminates. These stories feel like the shout that has been welling up for a long time and needs to be heard.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley and Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 23 October 2018.

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