Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

I loved this book. Friday Black is a brilliantly provocative collection of stories that weave the worst of our present into a terrifyingly real near future, filled with characters we fear and worry over. The writing is sharp, precise but unfussy. There is definitely a George Saunders influence (I’m thinking some of my favourite stories like ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’), but Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is very much himself. A Nigerian history of story runs within the tales twisting the visions of the future in new ways.

The stories range from the fallout of a court case in which a man is set free after killing a whole family of black americans with a chainsaw because he felt they were threatening him. The protagonist in this story, ‘The Finkelstein’, is constantly measuring the level of his own blackness. If his voice is soft and he wears the right clothes he can get it down to a 4.0 on a 10-point scale. Getting his blackness rating down allows him to pass through society without overt notice, helps him to get on in school, get a job. The story is outright terrifying because it literally screams at the reader to take notice of what’s happening in the world around them.

There are several stories that deal with retail and the consumer world. ‘Friday Black’, ‘How to Sell a Jacket as Told by IceKing’ and ‘In Retail’ all take us into the mall and show us the unsettling heart of market competition. They reminded me of the horror novel, The Mall by S. L. Grey.

Adjei-Brenyah exploits both the surreal, in ‘Lark Street’ for example, and the possibilities of genetic enhancement and nuclear fallout, in ‘The Era’ where new enhanced people judge anyone who gives into their emotions or doesn’t say exactly what they think, or ‘Through the Flash’ where people are forced to live their last day, before the atomic flashing end, again and again and again.

This can’t summarise the collection because it is fierce and bubbling with ideas. I read Friday Black as a promotional ebook version but I definitely want to own this book for myself and share its stories. This is writing that is clever, elegant and relevant. A real triumph. I can’t wait to read more of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s work. Friday Black is out in hardback on 23rd October 2018 and paperback next year. Put it on your wish list.

Next week I’ll be reviewing The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts.

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