Friday Black (Paperback)
Mariner Books, 9781328911247, 208pp.
Publication Date: October 23, 2018
November 2018 Indie Next List
— Christen Thompson, Itinerant Literate Books, N Charleston, SC
View the List
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree, chosen by Colson Whitehead
“An unbelievable debut, one that announces a new and necessary American voice.” —Tommy Orange, New York Times Book Review
“An excitement and a wonder: strange, crazed, urgent and funny.” —George Saunders
“Dark and captivating and essential . . . A call to arms and a condemnation . . . Read this book.” —Roxane Gay
A piercingly raw debut story collection from a young writer with an explosive voice; a treacherously surreal, and, at times, heartbreakingly satirical look at what it’s like to be young and black in America.
From the start of this extraordinary debut, Nana Kwame 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 in this country.
These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In “The Finkelstein Five,” Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unforgettable reckoning of the brutal prejudice of our justice system. In “Zimmer Land,” we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of racism as sport. And “Friday Black” and “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” show the horrors of consumerism and the toll it takes on us all.
Entirely fresh in its style and perspective, and sure to appeal to fans of Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, and George Saunders, Friday Black confronts readers with a complicated, insistent, wrenching chorus of emotions, the final note of which, remarkably, is hope.
About the Author
Praise For Friday Black…
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Named a Best Book by:
Elle, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Harper’s Bazaar, Nylon, Boston Globe, Southern Living, O, the Oprah Magazine,Chicago Tribune, The Verge,Vulture, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Millions, New York Observer, Literary Hub, Color Lines,PopSugar, The Rumpus, BookPage,St. Louis Post-Dispatch,the CBC, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, My Domaine, Bookish, Read It Forward, and The Seattle Review of Books
One of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honorees, chosen by Colson Whitehead
An Indie Next Pick
Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal of Excellence in Fiction
A National Indie Bestseller
A Boston Globe Bestseller
A New York Times Editors' Choice
“A powerful and important and strange and beautiful collection of stories . . . An unbelievable debut, one that announces a new and necessary American voice . . . A dystopian story collection as full of violence as it is of heart. To achieve such an honest pairing of gore with tenderness is no small feat . . . Violence is only gratuitous when it serves no purpose, and throughout Friday Black we are aware that the violence is crucially related to both what is happening in America now, and what happened in its bloody and brutal history . . . In smart, terse prose, Adjei-Brenyah is unflinching, and willing, in most of these 12 stories, to leave us without any apparent hope. But the hope is there—or if it isn’t hope, it’s maybe something better: levelheaded, compassionate protagonists, with just enough integrity and ambivalence that they never feel sentimental. Each of these individuals carries a subtle clarity about what matters most when nothing makes sense in these strange and brutal worlds he builds . . . Adjei-Brenyah’s voice here is as powerful and original as Saunders’s is throughout Tenth of December . . . [Adjei-Brenyah] is here to signal a warning, or perhaps just to say this is what it feels like, in stories that move and breathe and explode on the page. In Friday Black, the dystopian future Adjei-Brenyah depicts—like all great dystopian fiction—is bleakly futuristic only on its surface. At its center, each story—sharp as a knife—points to right now.”
—Tommy Orange, New York Times Book Review
“Strange, dark and sometimes unnervingly funny . . . The [titular] story is a not-so-subtle critique of consumerism run amok. But like all effective satire, there’s a glint of truth and accumulation of mundane details that make the farcical scenario feel plausible . . . [Friday Black] uses fantasy and scorching satire to tackle issues like school shootings, abortion, racism, the callowness of commercialism, and how cyclical violence can be passed on across generations . . . Adjei-Brenyah renders prosaic scenarios unfamiliar by adding a surreal, disorienting twist.”
—Alexandra Alter, The New York Times
"Impressive...There's enormous talent on display in Friday Black."
—Wall Street Journal
“This pitch-dark, brutal, occasionally—mercifully!—funny collection of stories takes on the insidious nature of racism and the horrors of capitalism in equal measure and somehow ends up hopeful on the other side. Friday Black is enraging, it’s inventive . . . Much like living through this year, the experience of reading Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut can be harrowing, but it’s ultimately a pleasure to be in the company of a new voice as exciting as this.”
"Surreal, sobering, and tender all at once, this debut collection shines a laser-sharp light on the experience of being black in today's America."
“Fearless...[A] major literary debut . . . Unnervingly unpredictable . . . Friday Black ought to land as publishing’s definitive addition to an exciting pop culture trend: new black surrealism. Films such as Get Out and Sorry to Bother You, or Donald Glover projects like Atlanta and “This Is America,” derive political power from a kind of absurdist framing, which this book shares . . . Adjei-Brenyah executes his premises with an elegant Black Mirror-like realism...In their gnarly intensity, their polemical potency, they hit us where we live, here and now. Sometimes it takes a wild mind to speak the plainest truth.”
“One of the most anticipated literary debuts of the fall, Friday Black veers between the surreal and the satirical in its bold take on being young and black in America.”
—Entertainment Weekly, Most Anticipated Books of October
“[A] knockout . . . illuminate[s] unsettling truths about the world.”
“Like Kurt Vonnegut, the debut author introduces readers to worlds adjacent to our reality. They’re familiar enough for us to recognize ourselves within them—until Adjei-Brenyah takes the tough-to-stomach parts of humanity to extremes, like Black Friday shoppers turning into violent, materialistic murderers. The stories wrestle with racism, mob mentality, police violence, and unrestrained consumerism. They’re quick to read, and incredibly hard to forget.”
—Elle, “Best Books of the Year So Far”
“Reading Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut short story collection Friday Black is like being shaken awake. These stories exist in a sort of hyperreality, ordinary characters living in the not-so-unbelievable, Black Mirror–esque future of a culture that doesn't hesitate to commodify cruelty or monetize revolution . . . Adjei-Brenyah skewers the ways we brush past racism and injustice, making the absurdity of the rhetoric around both impossible to ignore.”
"Yes, anyone who likes Saunders should read Friday Black right away. Anyone who could take or leave Saunders should, too...No comparison can convey a book's intellectual heft, and Friday Black is as intellectually hefty as fiction can get. In these twelve stories, Adjei-Brenyah turns over ideas about racism, about classism and capitalism, about the apocalypse, and, most of all, about the corrosive power of belief. His work is fiercely, spikily funny. And no matter how supernatural his stories get, no matter how zombie-ish or futuristic, every one of them takes place in the world we know...Adjei-Brenyah has some serious powers himself. The energy in his fiction is wild, barely controllable yet perfectly controlled. Short stories, as a form, tend to compress big emotion into small action, but not these. Adjei-Brenyah fits big emotion, big action, and big thought into each story. His violence is never gratuitous, his ghosts never too chain-rattling to believe...Adjei-Brenyah speaks in more voices than seems possible, and those voices will follow you off the page...They will assert themselves, over and over. I'm here, these stories say. Sit up. Pay attention. I'm here."
“This collection is nothing short of astounding.”
—Nick Petrulakis, Boston Globe
“Adjei-Brenyah’s collection promises a searing, exacting look at injustice in America, from the quotidian to the systemic, delivered in a way that makes it impossible to look away.”
“Imagine a cross betweenGet Out and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and you’ll have a sense of what awaits readers of this audacious debut: darkly absurdist tales that take the horrors of racism to surreal new levels.”
—O, the Oprah Magazine
“The edge of the stories in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection Friday Black is razor sharp, ready to cut deep. This book is dark and captivating and essential. This book is a call to arms and a condemnation. Adjei-Brenyah offers powerful prose as parable. The writing in this outstanding collection will make you hurt and demand your hope. Read this book. Marvel at the intelligence of each of these stories and what they reveal about racism, capitalism, complacency and their insidious reach.”
“For literature to bring forth such an astonishing new voice as Nana K. Adjei-Brenyah’s—tender and furious, wise and wise-assed—marks a major leap forward for us all. The very first story brought me to tears, putting me in mind of Babel or Chekhov. And Adjei-Brenyah keeps doing that—dragging you through dystopic muck and mire before landing you in a transcendent spiritual place. This is the fiction debut of the year, and I can’t cheer it loudly enough. Bravo, young man. We await your encore.”
“These stories are an excitement and a wonder: strange, crazed, urgent and funny, yet classical in the way they take on stubborn human problems: the depravities of capitalism, love struggling to assert itself within heartless systems. The wildly talented Adjei-Brenyah has made these edgy tales immensely charming, via his resolute, heartful, immensely likeable narrators, capable of seeing the world as blessed and cursed at once.”
“Stunning . . . Adjei-Brenyah grapples with many of the most complicated, essential issues of today, from the evils of racism and capitalism to the ways in which violence and inequality are expected parts of life for so many people in America. Adjei-Brenyah's prose grabs you from the beginning and doesn't loosen its grip, as it takes you into the dark corners of the American experience, with a lyricism, dark wit, and palpable emotional weight.”
“Searing . . . Adjei-Brenyah examines, with dark humor and urgent insight, what it’s like to be young and black in America . . . These satirical tales tackle violence, injustice and rampant consumerism with brutal honesty.”
"Striking and topical...This high-concept and morally rich collection is discomfiting and moving, savage in its social critique yet generous towards its characters. It ends with a lovely, tempered note of hope...The stories that Adjei-Brenyah tells are terrifying. But, in our reading them, at least we’re not alone."
“The stories in this collection are aching and powerful dispatches on race, violence, and the modern world.”
“George Saunders for the post-Obama era, with some Paul Beatty sprinkled in, Adjei-Brenyah takes the absurdities of racism and other American ills to comic-dystopian extremes in her debut short story collection . . . Tenderness pokes through.”
—Vulture, Best Books of October
“The stories in this debut collection warp the dark realities of American racism into vicious satire.”
—Vulture, Most Anticipated Books of the Fall
“Adjei-Brenyah takes the absurdities of racism and other ills to comic-dystopian extremes.”
—Vulture, “To Do: Oct 17-31, 2018”
"Darkly humorous satire of the dystopic results of an American culture conditioned to accept the excesses of capitalism, racism, and structural violence as the norm. The extraordinary becomes quotidian. And somehow Adjei-Brenyah retains a semblance of hope."
—Mychal Denzel Smith, Electric Literature
“Adjei-Brenyah's caustically inventive and audaciously topical debut collection of short stories wastes no time in letting you know where the author stands . . . There is anger in this collection, but also nuance, grace and a probing empathy with the breaking hearts and bemused emotions of men, women and children struggling to deal with the jolting maelstrom of postmillennial American racism . . . Adjei-Brenyah may well be the most provocative among a startlingly promising group of young African American short-fiction writers (Nafissa Thompson-Spires, JM Holmes, Jamel Brinkley) who have emerged this year. His mordant wit, dystopian visions and keen sense of injustice aren’t just intended to shock the reader but also to provide space to contemplate myriad social traumas and their close-to-the-bone effects on people’s lives . . . [In the story] “In Retail,” [the] narrator, after mentioning the suicide of a cashier, says, '[I]f you wanna be happy here in the Prominent Mall you have to dig happiness up, ‘cause it’s not gonna just walk up to you and ask how you’re doing.' That observation, as much as any in “Friday Black,” could encapsulate what these bleak, funny and oddly heartfelt stories are trying to tell their readers: In the most trying and bewildering times, don’t expect sense to be easily made or grace to force its way in your lives. Make your own sense of things. Let the grace come to you.”
“Disturbingly dark and extremely brilliant . . . While the wild inventiveness and piercing insights of Adjei-Brenyah’s stories could be described as Saunders-esque, the tough, nimble prose, which isn’t afraid to turn brutal or heartbreaking, is purely his own invention.”
“Satirical, edgy, fresh, hard-hitting.”
“Tackling issues like criminal justice, consumerism, and racism, these timely stories are searching for humanity in a brutal world. The collection is both heartbreaking and hopeful.”
“The stories in the collection have a dystopian bent and are told with dark humor and a clear-eyed understanding of human failings.”
—Poets & Writers
“Compelling . . . A satirical yet unflinching look at what it’s like to be black and young in America.”
—New York Observer
"Friday Black announces the bold and innovative voice of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. His 12 fierce stories animate — and, at times, amplify — a truly devastating portrait of race relations in our country today...Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection very much falls within the literary continuum of The Underground Railroad, a sort of contemporary, satirical counterpart to [Colson] Whitehead’s novel about slavery...Adjei-Brenyah is clearly creating his own world here — and readers need to pay attention."
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A captivating exploration into the urgent issues facing black men and women today . . . The stories collected here are raw and in your face and at times explosive, all of which make it one of the year's most searing debuts.”
"By pursuing this human need to belong (and also resist), Adjei-Brenyah gives us stories that are covered in dystopian gloom but also imbued with an illuminating hope. Whether his characters are on the bus, at a fortune teller’s, or in a hospital room, Adjei-Brenyah’s stories convey the wide range of human experience and the endless limits of imagination."
"Strange, dark...Its satire is the blackest of black, asking hard questions about race, about consumerism, about savagery in both the world imagined and the world around us...For all the misery and death in the book, it's a wicked-good read dashed with warmth, hope and humor. [Adjei-Brenyah] hasn't given up on homo sapiens. Far from it...Yes, there's suffering. Yes, people of color die at the hands of systemic racism. Yes, he takes all of those truths and inflates them in fiction, pushing them to head-cracking extremes, warping them into a vivid panoply of dark fables peopled with ordinary folk. But to paraphrase Monty Python, we're not dead yet."
"An unflinching examination of the world we live in told through science fiction, humor and satire. By stretching the ordinary into extraordinary, Friday Black takes on race, consumerism, violence and complacency with remarkable skill and poise...Adjei-Brenyah's style allows readers to question themselves, their communities, and ultimately the world."
—Syracuse Post Standard
"Cutting from start to finish, a deep stare into the sociocultural abyss shot through with bleak humor...Adjei-Brenyah prods at tropes and expectations to create affective and moving stories...Adjei-Brenyah creates sweeps of dystopic horror that don’t appear much different from the present moment at all. Nothing in Friday Black feels impossible or unreal; in fact, the punch of the constant violence is that it’s utterly plausible despite the purposeful edginess of literary surrealism. Issues of authority, power, and social violence are dealt with as sticky webs, hideous and interrelated, whose effects are all-encompassing and inescapable...The perspective Adjei-Brenyah is offering on black masculinities in America is vital and significant. He is also working with a set of literary tropes (and a style of edge-pushing short fiction in particular) that are reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk...The collection is multifaceted, provocative, and focused first on affect. His willingness to explore ethical and emotional complexity, offering incisive portrayals and few simple answers, gives Friday Black the kind of heft I don’t see often in short fiction debuts...An important book for our contemporary political moment."
"Exceptional...Adjei-Brenyah has unleashed a ferociously indignant howl against America's worst impulses...The astonishing intensity of Adjei-Brenyah's scenarios are so at odds with the measured, almost workmanlike prose used to convey them that the extreme suddenly seems uncomfortably less outlandish...Time and again, Adjei-Brenyah's audacious magnifying glass reveals startling truths...There is subtlety here, too, which adds to the emotional weight of these stories...But without a doubt, it is the perversion of the familiar that shocks the most, because while these stories are exaggerated, they are frighteningly recognizable."
"These stories magnify what it means to be black in America—wherein your very presence can be deemed threatening, and therefore worthy of capital punishment—through a satirical, uncanny lens, reflecting back just how absurd and dehumanizing our reality is. They force us to reckon with our country’s toxic racism and consumerism while being compulsively readable and somehow even funny...America might be dehumanizing, Adjei-Brenyah seems to say, but we can still be human."
“Each of Adjei-Brenyah’s characters deals with the numbness that comes after the shock of death wears off—and the pain that arises when that shock doesn’t fade. This is a difficult read and a twisting meditation on a world where love’s gone missing.”
“Unflinching in its criticism of pervasive elements in modern America, tackling racial injustices, capitalism, school shootings, and more. Yet, even in pressing hot button issues, these stories remain firmly rooted in the people who inhabit them, calling for empathy even, and especially, for the characters who seem to least deserve it . . . Adjei-Brenyah is far from the first to attempt to tackle the issues plaguing American society through literature, but the ingenuity of his premises works to set this collection apart from the rest . . . The book’s prime accomplishment is in inspiring empathy for the marginalized and the feared . . . Adjei-Brenyah is effective in asking not for forgiveness, but for understanding. Adjei-Brenyah uses a lens of exaggeration to lay bare harsh truths about our reality and dares his reader not to flinch. Friday Black is a strong debut collection that introduces a demanding young voice. Hopefully, for all our sakes, this author has plenty more words left in him to share.”
“Friday Black’s subject is race, and the stories take on prejudice, racism, and American culture at large in a vivid and memorable way.”
“Remarkable in its honesty regarding the horrendous fantasy-life many white people in American still lead, while also critiquing the systems that allow for it . . . Imaginative . . . At first glance, you may think these tales are over the top, but look again: their expansion of real-life events, their critique of where we might be going, and their needling love for the characters harmed prove these stories are written by a visionary intent on showing us the less-than-moral mirror we’re reflected in. A book to both enjoy and make you pause uncomfortably, it’s well-worth the read.”
—Read It Forward
“In Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah presents us with a dystopia that, unfortunately, doesn’t seem too removed from our reality . . . Yet the stories are charming and caustic, memorable because they are full of sharp characters who are aware that their world is upside down . . . Adjei-Brenyah lays out the many ways the enlightened interact with a broken world: they laugh, cry, shake their fists at it, or remain indifferent. But through Friday Black, the author not only validates the struggle of the discerning but reminds them they are not alone in being right.”
“Edgy humor and fierce imagery coexist in these stories with shrewd characterization and humane intelligence, inspired by volatile material sliced off the front pages . . . Yet Adjei-Brenyah brings to what pundits label our 'ongoing racial dialogue' a deadpan style, an acerbic perspective, and a wicked imagination that collectively upend readers' expectations . . . Corrosive dispatches from the divided heart of America.”
—Kirkus Reviews, (Starred Review)
“Adjei-Brenyah dissects the dehumanizing effects of capitalism and racism in this debut collection of stingingly satirical stories... Adjei-Brenyah has put readers on notice: his remarkable range, ingenious premises, and unflagging, momentous voice make this a first-rate collection.”
—Publishers Weekly, (Starred Review)
“Adjei-Brenyah's dozen stories are disturbingly spectacular, made even more so for what he does with magnifying and exposing the truth...Ominous and threatening, Adjei-Brenyah's debut is a resonating wake-up call to redefine and reclaim what remains of our humanity.”
—Booklist, (Starred Review)
“An urgent satiric voice”
—Writers to Watch, Publishers Weekly
“A striking collection, by turns witty, insightful and brutally honest. Adjei-Brenyah's inventive language conjures worlds with brevity, specificity and a dark, absurdist humor. An exciting voice.”
—Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and Sorry Please Thank You
“Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has written an exciting, dazzling collection of stories. He writes with a ferocious wit and a big heart. His inventive fictional worlds speak both directly and covertly to this political moment in unexpected and fresh ways. Friday Black marks the thrilling debut of an important new voice in fiction.”
—Dana Spiotta, author of the National Book Award finalist Eat the Document and Innocents and Others
“Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is a name you better get used to saying. The funny, uncompromising voice heard here for the first time, one that’s not afraid to wander past the checkpoints of realism in order to get at the nature of the American real, will be with us for a long time to come. 'The Finkelstein Five' already reads like a classic, even though it stings like it was written this morning.”
—Jonathan Dee, author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Privileges and The Locals
“Prescient, dark, and deeply empathetic, visceral and inventive, these stories announce Adjei-Brenyah as both an astute cultural critic and a truthteller.”
—Nafissa Thompson-Spires, author of Heads of the Colored People
“Friday Black offers us a glimpse of a world held together by both hope and rage. At once strange and hypnotic, uncompromising and merciful, these stories spring from a generous and vivid imagination, singular and expansive. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah offers us a vision of America as we know it, in prose that leads us towards the spectacular and humbles us in its fullness. Follow every advice that tells you to read this book.”
—Maaza Mengiste, author of Beneath the Lion's Gaze
“Adjei-Brenyah's haunting collection is a work of modern-day surrealism, offering us tales which speak to the travesties of our time. Here are the stories of Trayvon Martin, of school shootings, of bloodthirsty capitalism and its unending injustices. And here, too, are stories of good people engaged in the spiritual work of love and kindness. Adjei-Brenyah is a radical absurdist, telling truth-tales to help us all see our world more clearly. ”
—Alexander Weinstein, author of Children of the New World
“Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has a cool eye, bright mind, and high style. His stories are solid, they're unusual, imaginative, disturbing, wry, tender, funny. Bursting with surprising language and formal invention, they plant the zeitgeist onto the page. It lives in Friday Black, in all its complexity, trouble, and possibility. Writing this distinctive and good, especially in our uneasy time, is genuinely a cause for celebration.”
—Lynne Tillman, author of Men and Apparitions
“Riveting. Every word. An impassioned interrogation of the human condition on the blackhand side, a true work of wonder, just reeking of significance. Here be Nana Kwame, scaling all manner of emotional registers while maintaining a stunning textual authority. And just when you think you've settled in, here comes Anansi and the Twelve-Tongued God working other dimensions in a seamless blend. He makes it look effortless but the clarity of the craft is self-evident, a numinous voice powering stories and characters that will inhabit your consciousness long after you've finished it and tried to put it down. In this impressive debut of a literary voice both new and edgy, we find an ancient griot telling stories of startling grace, gathering folk around the sacred fire and word by word forging the visions without which the people would perish. Testimony.”
—Arthur Flowers, author of Another Good Loving Blues and I See the Promised Land