Book Review: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Rating:  ★★★★

Friday Black is a debut collection of short fiction from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.  Some of the stories are what I’d classify as literary fiction, but many of them are also speculative.  His writing is flawless, and the stories pull no punches.  It’s dark, bold, and incredibly relevant.  Adjei-Brenyah’s stories largely explore race and systemic racism, consumerism, and the violence entrenched in our culture.

Having worked a few Black Friday’s myself, when I saw the book I knew I had to read it.  This is satire at its finest, but it’s sad because all of the stories hold so much truth.  This book is quick, and could probably be read in a day, but I found myself putting it down between stories to think on them.

“Emmanuel started learning the basics of his Blackness before he knew how to do long division: smiling when angry, whispering when he wanted to yell.”

“The Finkelstein 5” is the title of the first story.  It’s explosive, and was an excellent opener.  It hooks you in from the start.  The MC, Emmanuel, talks about how one of the first things his father taught him was to dial down his blackness by adjusting his clothes, his mannerisms, his language.  Meanwhile, a white man is on trial for the brutal murder of five black children, and the world waits to see whether he is found guilty or innocent.  What’s so terrifying about this story, is how many times we’ve already seen it in the news.  I won’t spoil it any further, but it’s a story I think everyone should read. 5/5 stars

“Things My Mother Said” is super short but absolutely beautiful.  He manages to get his point across in a page and a half.  Read it, then call your mother and tell her you love her. Another 5 star read.

“Back then, everyone was a liar.”

“The Era” was interesting.  In a dystopian world, people no longer have feelings.  Those with feelings have to take drugs to stop having feelings in order not to “cloud their truth” with emotion.  You can call your teacher a fat slob and he’ll shrug it off.  Telling the truth is highly encouraged.  Overall, I enjoyed it. 4/5 stars

“Lark Steet” was my least favorite story in the book.  It’s about abortion.  I’m not sure what the author was arguing for/against here.  I felt icky after I read it and I had to put the book down for a day or two after that.  2/5 stars

“Nothing is more boring than a happy ending.”

“The Hospital Where” was a good one.  It employed magical realism instead of straight up fantasy.  It was weird and wonderful all at once.  At times it felt like being stuck in a surrealist painting.  I interpreted it as an allegory for the impact of writing and the writing process, but it also felt like a love letter to writing. 4/5 stars

“Zimmer Land” is about a theme park where people can act out their most violent fantasies and pretend they are heroes.  I was reminded a lot of Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience.”  I thought Adjei-Brenyah’s story started stronger but I think Roanhorse’s finished stronger (to be fair, that would have been a difficult ending to beat).  4/5 stars

I’ve seen somebody step on someone else to get the jeans on a Black Friday…How did you decide to step on a human being to get a pair of jeans?”*

“Friday Black” the story for which the book is named, made me laugh.  Not because it’s funny- really it’s not.  It made me laugh because I find the whole Black Friday business pretty disgusting, and I’d rather laugh than cry.  I’ve been on the front lines of that battle.  At 1:00 AM.  Because some retail genius somewhere thought Christmas shopping at 1:00 AM seemed totally reasonable. 5/5 stars

“The Lion & the Spider” incorporates a tale of Anansi the spider alongside the tale of a boy who’s father has gone missing.  It took me right up until the end to see what either had to do with the other, but I absolutely loved the ending, so I won’t spoil it.  This was one of the more hopeful stories in the book. 5/5 stars

“He brings the comb to his head.  Yes.  Each strand of hair will shine, slick and erect.  The mane of a battle-ready soldier.  Oh, he will look good for the annihilation.”

“Light Spitter” is a story about a school shooting that also employs magical realism.  I’m a little undecided on where I stand with this one.  I was less moved by this story than others, but I enjoyed the themes and metaphors here more than some of the other stories.  3/5 stars

“How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” is another retail themed story. I believe it is a continuation of Friday Black.  I did enjoy it- but I think it’s more because I liked the Ice King’s character than anything else.  Themes in this story pertain to consumerism, but it fell a little short of the first piece. 4/5 stars

“In retail, if you don’t wanna be a Lucy, you gotta find ways to make the bleak a little better.”

“In Retail” is another retail story, following the same character.  I adored this one too.  It talks about how sometimes, there can be good days in retail.  In retail, most customers won’t appreciate you, but sometimes you get one who is truly grateful.  It was probably the most relatable story of the bunch for me.  It also included a funny tidbit about a Spanish teacher that made me laugh out loud.  4/5 stars

“Through the Flash” returns to the science fiction side of things.  People live the same day over and over again.  They can do different things each day, but no matter what happens, when they wake up, it’s the same day.  I fell in love with Ama’s character, and I thought it was a good way to close out the book. 4/5 stars

Overall, it’s a dark collection that’s been balanced with dark humor.  I very much enjoyed it and I’ll definitely be checking out Adjei-Brenyah’s future work.  I’d love to see what he could do with a full length novel.  Friday Black can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

*Quote from the author, borrowed from a NY Times article about the book written by Alexandra Alter (link here).  Check it out- it was awesome!

Content warnings:  I’m just going to go with a blanket statement here and say that if you need them, this probably isn’t the book for you.

 

 

Month in Review: April 2019

April was a pretty good month for me I think.  I feel accomplished having tackled not one but two behemoth novels that accounted for over 2,000 pages of reading alone.  I found some new favorites and authors to look out for in Sylvain Neuvel and Maria Dahvana Headley.  To top it off- I added another notch to my classics belt with Beowulf!

Can I start with some stats?  Is that allowed?

Books read: 9 for April, 32 for the year

Pages read: 3,925 out of 10,597 (So 37% of my reading was done in April alone… interesting.)

Average rating: 3.61

Female Authors: 3 out of 15 for the year (Booo! My goal this year is to read more women than men.  For some reason I gravitate more towards male authors. It’s a bad habit and I’m trying to break it.)

Favorite Read:

The Mere Wife Maria Dahvana Headley

Review here.  I gave this book 4.5 stars, but if I’m being honest, it deserves 5.  I was a little thrown by the ending at the time, but this book has stuck with me.  Weeks later I find myself still thinking about it, and wondering how I can convince my mother to read it.

Longest read:

TheStand_SK

Review here.  This is probably the longest book I’ve ever read at 1,345 pages.  The Priory of the Orange Tree was a close second at 848 pages.  I feel like I’ve lost a part of my soul having to say that it was also my lowest rated read.

Shortest Read:

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

Review here.  The Test clocks in at a mere 112 pages and is absolutely worth the two hours it takes to read it. It was a close second for highest rated, and really only lost out because The Mere Wife effected me so much more.

Series Completed:

Luna Moon Rising Ian McDonald

Luna by Ian McDonald, review here.  I’m sad it’s over- I could spend another 3, 5 or 10 books with these characters. On the bright side, in the bottomless depths of the Edelweiss catalogues, I’ve discovered a novella expected to release this fall set in this world.  Once they’ve got a cover up it’s headed straight for Can’t Wait Wednesday.

Other reads completed this month:

ARCs approved:

I’m super excited for Atmosphaera Incognita by Neal Stephenson.  It will actually be the first time I’ve read him, and while it may not be the best place to start, I’m happy I won’t feel obligated to finish a thousand page novel if I don’t end up being a fan.

A Hero Born is actually a wish I had granted.  I was super excited about it because I’m always looking for a good translated and foreign favorite novel, but I’ve seen some less-than-stellar reviews on this particular translation.  Lucky me it’s not due out until fall so I won’t feel too bad about procrastinating.

GoodReads Giveaway Won:

Ninth Step Station by Malka Older Fran Wilde Jacqueline Koyanagi Curtis Chen

I’m SO excited I won the giveaway for Ninth Step Station.  Not long after I downloaded my kindle copy, the kind folks at Serial Box sent me a redemption code to get the audio to go with it.  I’ve never tried Serial Box before but I hear it is full cast audio, and one of the authors, Malka Older, I know is super talented.  I can’t wait to get started!

Looking ahead…

Currently reading:

Just to assure myself I really do like Under the Dome and that my reading tastes haven’t changed drastically, I’m re-reading it so I can later do a compare-contrast (and finally put up a review).  It’s long but it’s going quick and only 10% I’m fairly certain it isn’t my taste that’s changed.

Friday Black was put on my radar by the Newburyport Literary Festival, which happened to be the same day as the Providence one.  I was combing their list of authors trying to determine which festival I would enjoy more and Adjei-Brenyah was one author I’d never heard of before but that I was sort of sorry I would miss out on.  This is a collection of short stories, many of which happen to be speculative fiction.  It’s definitely interesting so far, and his stories are very thought provoking.

Planned reads for May:

And I guess that’s it!  *If you don’t hear from me, send help. I’m already behind!*

Providence Book Festival

Screen Shot 2019-04-30 at 6.40.05 PM

Renaissance Hotel Providence Book Fesitval

The small city of Providence, RI held it’s first book festival this weekend, presented by LiteraryArts RI (LARI).  It was staged at the very beautiful Renaissance Hotel.  I have never been to a book festival or ComicCon so I was unsure what to expect.

 

The list of authors and guest speakers was released fairly late.  If it had been released earlier I might have been better prepared.  They did, amazingly, have a couple of speculative fiction authors there, M.T. Anderson, author of Feed, was a keynote speaker (on opening night I think), as well as Lara Elena Donnelly, author of Amberlough, which was nominated for the Nebula in 2017.  While I did see Lara signing books and sitting in on some of the panels, generally looking humble and way too cool to ever talk to me (though I’m confident she would have, and done it graciously), I was too shy to approach her myself because I hadn’t read her book yet.  (Please Providence Book Festival- release your author lists earlier next year.  Also- please let there be a next year!)  There were also a couple of pretty recognizable YA Fantasy authors present, among them Julie Dao, promoting her Rise of the Empress series, starting with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.

 

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I did get to see Theodora Goss reading her newest book, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, sequel to The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.  I found Ms. Goss absolutely enchanting in the way she read.  I don’t know if she narrates her own audiobooks, but if she does, go with audio!  Her passion and enthusiasm for her work was infectious, and definitely encouraged me to move The Strange Case farther up my TBR.

Again- I would have loved to say hello- but I felt weird.  (Don’t ask- I’m the most socially awkward human being you’ve never met.)  For future reference- do you guys have tips for this situation?  Have you said hello to an author you recognize but whose book you haven’t read yet?

Anyway- I attended as more than a blogger and reader, but as an aspiring writer myself.  I listened to two panels where debut authors were given an opportunity to speak about their paths to publication.  The first panel, moderated by Vanessa Lillie, a local author whose book Little Voices is being published by Thomas & Mercer this fall, was a definite  highlight.  I could have listened to them banter about publishing all day.

 

Vanessa Lillie Little Voices William Dameron The Lie Susan Bernhard Winter Loon James Charlesworth The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill

From left to right: James Charlesworth, Susan Bernhard, William Dameron, Vanessa Lillie)

In case any of you are also aspiring authors, the big message they delivered was not to give up, keep editing your work, keep revising your query letter.  You do not need a huge social media presence or previous publication history to get published.  Susan mentioned that it was only after 99 rejections, that she finally found an agent.  She was burnt out on rejection and sent that last query letter, the winning one, on a whim. (Okay, she actually equated it to wanting a punch in the face, but you get the point.)

The second panel I listened to was more of an open discussion format, with a separate group of four authors answering audience 

Abby Fabiaschi I Liked My Life Maura Roosevelt Baby of the Family Marlene Adelstein Sophie Last Seen Molly Dektar The Ash Family

From left to right: Molly Dektar, Abby Fabiaschi, Maura Roosevelt, Marlene Adelstein

questions.  It was an all female panel ranging in experience from freshly graduated with an MFA to well established freelance editor.  These ladies had some fantastic advice as well, but the point that particularly resonated with me, stated by Maura Roosevelt, author of Baby of the Family, was that authors have to be cooperative and collaborative.  They all felt strongly that their novels had been changed for the better by their respective agents and editors.  

Takeaways for first time festival goers:  If time allows, be prepared by reading a few books by some of the speakers!  My biggest regret was that I felt like it would be rude of me to approach an author whose book I hadn’t read.  I would have liked to ask Ms. Donnelly in particular what she thought of Tor or what it was like to work with them since I’m such a big fan of their books.

Plan for the panels you want to attend, and research their locations if possible.  The Renaissance, while gorgeous, was not a great location for the size of this festival.  It was spread across three floors, so I found myself spending a lot of time on the elevator.  For one 40 minute block I found I hadn’t planned what I wanted to see, and later regretted what I saw (not that it was bad, none of them were, I just felt I would have benefitted more from a different speaker).

Finally- be prepared for people to try and sell you stuff.  Maybe that seems self explanatory, but I actually really wasn’t prepared for that.  I went in with a writer’s mindset.  I was there for information, with no intention of buying anything.  I did not expect to have tables of authors pitching their books to me.  And hey- hustlers gotta hustle.  No harm done.  I just wished I’d been better prepared.

Overall- I thought it was a great festival.  I learned a lot, but most of all, it motivated me to really put the passion back into my work as I wade through tedious line by line revisions and rewrites for a book I’ve probably read a hundred times.

How about you?  Have you attended a book festival before?  Do you have any pro-tips to share with me?

I am not being paid to promote any authors mentioned here, but I wanted to direct you to the GoodReads page for each of the fabulous panel authors I mentioned above. Their books really do sound excellent, and I think at least a few of you might find them interesting.

James Charlesworth, The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill:  Described by Charlesworth as: four siblings plot to kill their jerk dad after he becomes fabulously wealthy.  As described by GoodReads: “a literary suspense novel about the decline and consequence of patriarchal society. It is also an intricate family saga of aspiration and betrayal.”

William Dameron, The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing Coming Out: I’ll also throw a shout out to his fabulous essay (that landed him this publishing deal) “After 264 Haircuts, A Marriage Ends“.  From GoodReads: “A candid memoir of denial, stolen identities, betrayal, faking it, and coming out.”

Susan Bernhard, Winter Loon: From GoodReads: “A haunting debut novel about family and sacrifice, Winter Loon reminds us of how great a burden the past can be, the toll it exacts, and the freedom that comes from letting it go.”

Vanessa Lillie, Little Voices: Quote from the agent, Victoria Sanders: “a new mother suffering from postpartum psychosis while reeling from the brutal murder of a close friend.”  The “Little Voices” in her head are helping her to solve the mystery.

Molly Dektar, The Ash Family: From GoodReads: “When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.”

Abby Fabiaschi, I Liked My Life: As described by Abby, a wife and mother commits suicide, and leaves her teenage daughter trying to put together the why of it.  She assured us that, despite the dark premise, it’s got plenty of dark humor to break it up.

Maura Roosevelt, Baby of the Family:  My take on the book: Wealthy father dies, leaving all of his fortune to his youngest son.  Siblings who can’t adult are brought together by his death.  From GoodReads: “Weaving together multiple perspectives to create a portrait of an American family, and an American dream gone awry, Baby of the Family is a book about family secrets–how they define us, bind us together, and threaten to blow us (and more) apart.”

Marlene Adelstein, Sophie Last Seen:  From GoodReads: “Six years ago, ten-year-old Sophie Albright disappeared from a shopping mall. Her mother, Jesse, is left in a self-destructive limbo..With help from…a private detective on the trail of another missing girl, Jesse may finally get some closure, one way or the other.”