My aversion to engaging with all things ‘overhyped’ has seen me miss out on many well-received books and media offerings. Whilst I love dissecting and discussing things with as many people as possible, I’m loathe at my perspective being shaped in part by the relentless force of popular opinion.
I dodged Sally Rooney’s Normal People like the plague until I could hear my own thoughts underneath the non-stop noise. I squashed all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones into just a few weeks before the finale aired, because even though I knew I’d probably like it, I wanted to enjoy it as impartially as possible, away from the commentary on Twitter. This line of thinking very nearly made me miss out on one of the most popular books of last year, Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. And how glad I am I didn’t.
Three words come to mind when speaking of Reid’s sparky debut: Believe the hype. Such A Fun Age is a millennial mediation on race and class relations in the US, set to the backdrop of Barack’s America in 2015 and during the rise of the dissemination of recorded incidents of racism. The story follows a white feminist blogger Alix Chamberlain, who one night calls her African American babysitter, Emira Tucker, asking her to take her toddler to a posh grocery store after a domestic emergency. During their outing, the security guard on duty accuses Emira of kidnap, leading to Alix's initially well-meaning, mismanaged crusade to right the wrong and all other perceived problems in Emira’s life. Now in particular, as the world comes to terms with the recorded killing of George Floyd which first came to light through harrowing viral footage, it's themes of white liberal guilt, social media and armchair activism, feel particularly pertinent. The oft blurred lines between “influencing” and “scamming” are also lightly tackled alongside the power dynamics between white middle class mothers and black working class carers, as well as black working class women and their newly middle class black friends.
Reading other reviews of this brilliant book, it’s fascinating to see just how differently different audiences respond to its various awkward scenarios and self-serving characters, both black and white readers cringing in recognition at every turn of the page. In the same vein as seminal horror flick Get Out, microaggressions, white paternalism and performativity are played for uncomfortable laughs, that require even the most progressive of liberals to examine their own biases and motivations in an age where perceived “wokeness” is prioritised over actual engagement with issues.
The deftness, humour and nuance with which Reid comments on issues that are usually the subject of much heavier reads, speaks directly to her skill. Throughout lockdown, I’ve been repeatedly rereading Such a Fun age in the hopes it will make me a better writer. It's everything a fiction debut should be - effortlessly smart, beautifully written and with a hell of a lotl to say. Such a fun read.