Such a Fun Age

Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age
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Such a Fun Age

Kiley Reid

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her young black babysitter, Emira Tucker, is accused by a security guard of kidnapping the Chamberlains' toddler at the supermarket one night. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke and wary of Alix’s desire to help. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the awkwardness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone ‘family’, the complicated reality of being a grown-up and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Review

Kiley Reid’s debut arrives after a major publisher bidding war. It is easy to see why – Such a Fun Age is an immensely readable and topical novel that opens with a volatile event that shapes everything that follows.

Emira, a twenty-five-year-old African-American woman, is underemployed as a babysitter by a wealthy, white Philadelphia family. On her night off they call and ask her to collect Briar, their three-year-old daughter, and ferry her to an upscale neighbourhood supermarket. Emira is out drinking and dancing with her friends, but her employees, Alix and Peter Chamberlain, sound desperate – someone has thrown eggs at their windows, shattering the glass. The police are on their way and they don’t want Briar involved. Emira is dedicated to the little girl; plus the Chamberlains have offered double pay.

Such a Fun Age explores the various discomforts and offenses wrought by American capitalism. It is also a novel explicitly about race. Dressed up for a night out, Emira doesn’t look like a babysitter and a meddling customer points this out to a security guard who then accuses her of kidnapping. Inevitably, the situation escalates, and a white man – Kelley – captures the confrontation on his phone. Reid, who worked as a nanny in her twenties, knows first-hand the complexity of transactional relationships, made more intricate when race is added to the contract. She fleshes this out by shifting between Emira’s and Alix’s perspectives. Like Kelley, Alix believes she’s doing the right thing. But what we see is how both Alix and Kelley perform their ‘wokeness,’ exploiting Emira to work out anxieties about their own white privilege. Reid’s great skill is how she paints neither as all hero or villain.

Such a Fun Age is tightly structured and full of sharply observant dialogue and squirmy scenarios. Reid’s crisp and clear prose will have you rapidly turning the pages of her novel towards its final perceptive and provocative observations.


Joanna Di Mattia works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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