Nana Kwama Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black (Mariner Books 2018)
The Black Lives Matter movement looms large in the warp and weft of this book, especially in the first story, ‘The Finkelstein 5’, which features an activity known as Naming – African-Americans brutally kill random white people while shouting the names of the victims of a hideous racist murder –, and in ‘Zimmer Land’, in which a theme park named for Trayvon Martin’s killer caters to white men acting act out fantasies of killing young African-American men.
But it’s a long way from being a political manifesto. This is strong, beautifully crafted fiction, with a weird, fantastic edge to it: the killer in ‘The Finkelstein 5’ dismembered five teenagers in a parking lot with a chainsaw and was still found not guilty because he argued that what he did was for his own children; and the protagonist in ‘Zimmer Land’ wears a hi-tech suit that enables him on the one hand to become hugely threatening to the customers and on the other hand not be killed when they shoot him.
The other stories are less violent – though there is one set in a department store that involves a callous acceptance of the death of many customers in the Black Friday sales. (I was being all complacent about us not having such a barbaric ritual in Australia despite the efforts of Amazon and others to impose it – here Black Friday refers to some terrible bushfires – when I saw a news item about people being crushed in a mall in Parramatta, and the story retrospectvely took on a much more urgent feel.)
The sensibility behind the stories has a lot in common with Jordan Peel’s brilliant, borderline-horror movies, Get Out and Us. As in those movies, the stories are the thing, and the implications trail behind them like the tails of comets, staying in the mind a long time.
My copy was a gift from a friend who bought the book in New York to read on the flight home. He thought that because I enjoy China Miéville I would like these stories. I have no idea if Nana Kwama Adjei-Brenyah has even heard of China Miéville, but my friend was right about my response to the book.