Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
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.