Friday Black is a collection of short stories that explore the anomie of America’s cultural violence, materialism, and racism. There are twelve stories, some fantastical science fiction, some bitter satire, and all too real for comfort.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah worked at a retail clothing store in a mall and that experience lays the foundation for three of his stories. The title story, “Friday Black” is about Black Friday and the manic search for bargains and magic clothing that will confer status and approval on shoppers. The store even has a place for all the bodies that pile up while people trample each other. It is violently satirical, but the clerk retains his compassion, recognizing the very human need to find validation even if only through shopping. The other two retail stories are equally biting and compassionate.
Satire and compassion don’t come together easily, but Adjei-Brenyah makes it look simple. Even in the very brutal stories that bracket the book, “The Finkelstein 5” and “Through the Flash” the compassion is the heart of the story. In “The Finkelstein 5” our narrator “dials his Blackness” up and down, low for answering a call about a job interview, higher when going for the interview, in solidarity with the murdered children. The killer decapitated five young black children with a chainsaw outside the Finkelstein library and was acquitted because he claimed self-defense. The crime is outré and brutal but then so was the murder of Tamir Rice. The acquittal is only explicable by racism, but so was the acquittal of George Zimmermann.
It’s surely no accident that the theme park where racists get to enact their murderous impulses with impunity is called “Zimmer Land” in a disturbing and heartfelt story. “Light Splitter” gives us the spirits of a school shooter, his victim, and someone who is inspired to copy the shooter. In “The Hospital Where” the Kafkaesque hospital system is the backdrop to the obsessive power of writing and the need to write.
I was moved to tears by the end of “Through the Flash” after some of the most incredibly violent scenes when the narrator Knife Queen Ama and her family watch the coming Flash, “Even the apocalypse isn’t the end. That, you could only know when you’re standing before a light so bright it obliterates you. And if you are alone, posed like a dancer, when it comes, you feel silly and scared. And if you are with your family, or anyone at all, when it comes, you feel silly and scared, but at least not alone.”
This is an anthology that is brutally honest about what we don’t want to see or admit about our culture. “Zimmer Land” shows how brutalizing racism is and how easily people can exploit it. “The Finkelstein 5” imagines Black vigilantism. Racists count on Black forgiveness and every Black victim is importuned by the press to forgive, Black vigilantism has a powerful iconic power.
The stories in Friday Black are fresh, exciting and like nothing I have seen before. I think there is a deep and loving heart behind this writer’s pen.
I received a copy of Friday Black from the publisher through Edelweiss.
- Friday Black at Powells.com (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt site is temporarily missing books and authors.The proper link is Friday Black but is offline.)
- Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah profile at New York Times and on Twitter