Book Review: “Friday Black” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Spring Break is coming to an end, as is March! While this month didn’t feel as long as January, it certainly has felt pretty long. I didn’t manage to read as much as I wanted to, but that’s ok! I’m just glad that during my break I managed to make time for self-care in other ways, and that I really enjoyed what I did manage to read!

I’m actually still catching up on my reviews for the books I read in February, and Friday Black was certainly a stand-out read from last month! I don’t often read collections of short stories, but I’m so glad I took a leap out of my comfort zone for this one. I discovered this book through going to my city’s book festival in fall of 2018. I picked this particular book talk because it featured Luis Alberto Urrea, one of my favorite authors! Adjei-Brenyah was another novelist featured in this panel, and it was so wonderful listening to him speak. And his book sounded incredible! My now-husband and I immediately purchased his book after, and then stood in line to meet him and get it signed. He is such a kind man and talented writer.

While it may not be a book for everybody, it is definitely a powerful and well-crafted collection of short stories. It is very dark and violent at times, but the commentary contained in this speculative fiction is well worth the discomfort caused by some of the darker, bloodier stories. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Spoiler-Free Review: “Friday Black” is a powerful collection of speculative fiction short stories. These short stories explore everything from race/racism, consumerism, capitalism, the U.S. justice system, and more. There are stories of varying lengths, and the worlds created for each one are distinct and memorable. The only small issue I had was that some of the themes were repeated several times, with a few of the short stories blending together in my memory a little bit. I also struggled with a couple of them to understand the point that was being made in the end, but that could have just been my fault! When I was in high school, we read a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver for my IB English class. I remember they were also kind of dark, weird, and intense! Friday Black would be a great addition to a high school class. The themes covered are powerful and important, and teens (and adults!) would really benefit from some structured, guided discussions surrounding both the content and author’s craft because it’s clear that so much thought went into these stories. This is a memorable and haunting collection of short stories and I know that they’ll stay with me for a long time.

Below you will find a more thorough review containing my thoughts about the book. If you’re wanting to avoid any spoilers, you are welcome to jump to the TL;DR summary at the bottom of the page if you’d prefer!

“Friday Black” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Friday Black: Adjei-Brenyah, Nana Kwame: 9781328911247: Amazon.com: Books
  • Year of Publication: 2018
  • Genre: Science Fiction (Speculative Fiction)
  • Summary:

In the stories of Adjei-Brenyah’s debut, an amusement park lets players enter augmented reality to hunt terrorists or shoot intruders played by minority actors, a school shooting results in both the victim and gunman stuck in a shared purgatory, and an author sells his soul to a many-tongued god.

Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage, and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day. These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world.

Format: Paperback

Themes: Justice. Violence. Racism. Race. Consumerism. Materialism. Capitalism. Honesty. Humanity. And more!

Character Development: Adjei-Brenyah does a great job quickly establishing the characters in each of the different stories. Each story is short and features a unique cast of characters, but I felt like I was easily able to understand the new characters, their backgrounds, and their motivations with each new chapter. The characters typically aren’t exceptional; they’re ordinary people in disturbing or extraordinary settings. I thought this balance was perfect; it really allows you to focus on the satire that is happening (as the settings and plots are typically satirical, exaggerated versions of reality).

Plot/Pacing: I really enjoyed the plot of each of these stories! I loved how satirical this collection was; many of the stories were so powerful and disturbing because there was something about them that was eerily familiar. Adjei-Brenyah did a brilliant job taking things that are common and even normalized in our society, and exaggerating them to the point of violence or even insanity. My only issue was that some of the stories repeated the same themes or settings (such as three stories about consumerism/capitalism), which made those themes feel a little bit redundant. I also thought the pacing of the short stories was well done! The stories varied in length, with the longer ones being spread out throughout the collection. Most were the perfect length to read a chapter before bed, so it was great not to have to stop mid-chapter very often!

Writing Style: Adjei-Brenyah’s writing style is masterful. The ease and rapidity with which he builds different worlds and characters is incredible. You immediately feel immersed in each world he creates. The openings to each story in particular are so powerful; they suck you right in and make it nearly impossible to stop reading until you get to the end. I will say the endings weren’t always as well-constructed as the beginnings. They sometimes felt abrupt or possibly anti-climactic. However, other than that the writing was incredible; so much thought was put into the crafting of each story and the collection as a whole.

“Bingeability”: Moderate. The collection is pretty short and each story can be read fairly quickly, but due to the dark and heavy content of the stories, you probably wouldn’t want to binge-read them.

Emotional Investment: Moderate. With the changing characters and plots of each story, you don’t necessarily become emotionally invested in the traditional sense. However, with each story having such a clear connection to reality, the themes are what carry the emotional impact here. And they really do carry an emotional punch.

Windows and Mirrors: Racism. Black boyhood/manhood. Being black in America. Consumerism. Working in retail.

Overall Thoughts: What an incredible debut work from Adjei-Brenyah! While there were some stories in this collection that were less memorable than others, the few that really stood out are going to stick with me for a long time. In particular, the opening story, “The Finkelstein 5” is one I still can’t stop thinking about (even though I finished this book nearly a month ago). It was so violent and disturbing, and yet something about it was so familiar. Yes, the violence was exaggerated, but the problem it depicted was very much real. (I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say it involves decapitation and is a commentary on the violence that black people face on a regular basis. It’s difficult to forget.)

Another stand-out was the titular story “Friday Black.” Such a poignant and powerful commentary on consumerism and capitalism, and our tendency toward thinking material goods are the answers to all of our problems. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Adjei-Brenyah’s depiction of consumers on Black Friday forced me to stop and reflect on my own values and priorities.

Finally, the third story that really stood out to me was “Zimmer Land.” In this story, there is an amusement park in which participants can participate in virtual reality scenarios to enact “justice” in various situations. It’s horrifying and violent, and yet is presented as a natural and even positive solution to real-life issues of injustice. I’ll be vague in an effort to preserve the full impact of reading these stories, but take my word for it that they truly are so moving and well-crafted.

Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book. It’s creative, disturbing, haunting, memorable, and so powerful. Definitely keep in mind that the content is dark and heavy, so plan accordingly and be sure that you’re in the right space to read some heavier themes. This way, you’ll be able to fully appreciate the experience of reading this collection of short stories.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

TL;DR:
Year of Publication: 2018
Genre: Science Fiction (Speculative Fiction)
Summary: In the stories of Adjei-Brenyah’s debut, an amusement park lets players enter augmented reality to hunt terrorists or shoot intruders played by minority actors, a school shooting results in both the victim and gunman stuck in a shared purgatory, and an author sells his soul to a many-tongued god… Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage, and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day. These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world.
Themes: Justice. Violence. Racism. Race. Consumerism. Materialism. Capitalism. Honesty. Humanity. And more!
Character Development: Quick and clear character establishment to keep the focus on the world-building, plots, and themes. Ordinary characters in extraordinary situations.
Plot/Pacing:
Satirical. Exaggerated yet grounded. A little redundant at times. Good pacing and length of stories.
“Bingeability”:
Moderate.
Emotional Investment:
Moderate.
Windows and Mirrors:
Racism. Black boyhood/manhood. Being black in America. Consumerism. Working in retail.
Overall Thoughts:
Powerful, well-crafted stories. Not all were as memorable as others, but the three stand-out stories will stay with me for a long time are: The Finkelstein 5, Friday Black, and Zimmer Land.
Recommendation: Yes
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

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