‘Friday Black’ Paints a Dark Portrait of Race in America

Tommy Orange in The New York Times:

This year has been exhausting in so many ways, asking us to accept more than it seems we can, more than it seems should be possible. But really, in the end, today’s harsh realities are not all that surprising for some of us — for people of color, or for people from marginalized communities — who have long since given up on being shocked or dismayed by the news, by what this or that administration will allow, what this or that police department will excuse, who will be exonerated, what this or that fellow American is willing to let be, either by contribution or complicity. All this is done in the name of white supremacy under the guise of patriotism and conservatism, to keep things as they are, favoring white people over every other citizen, because where’s the incentive to give up privilege if you have it? Now more than ever I believe fiction can change minds, build empathy by asking readers to walk in others’ shoes, and thereby contribute to real change. In “Friday Black,” Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has written a powerful and important and strange and beautiful collection of stories meant to be read right now, at the end of this year, as we inch ever closer to what feels like an inevitable phenomenal catastrophe or some other kind of radical change, for better or for worse. And when you can’t believe what’s happening in reality, there is no better time to suspend your disbelief and read and trust in a work of fiction — in what it can do.

Adjei-Brenyah grew up in a suburb of New York and graduated with his M.F.A. from Syracuse University, where he was taught by the short story master George Saunders. “Friday Black” is an unbelievable debut, one that announces a new and necessary American voice. This is a dystopian story collection as full of violence as it is of heart. To achieve such an honest pairing of gore with tenderness is no small feat. The two stories that bookend the collection are the most gruesome, and maybe my favorites. Where they could be seen as gratuitous (at least to those readers who are not paying close attention to the news, or to those who intentionally avert their eyes), I find them perfectly paced narratives filled with crackling dialogue and a rewarding balance of tension and release. Violence is only gratuitous when it serves no purpose, and throughout “Friday Black” we are aware that the violence is crucially related to both what is happening in America now, and what happened in its bloody and brutal history.

More here.