Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

The Stacks received Friday Black from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

In his debut book, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has crafted an ambitious and exciting short story collection with, Friday Black. The stories meet at the intersection of race, politics, and capitalism. And just like the range of topics and ideas Adjei-Brenyah addresses with these stories, the genre is likewise ranging and evolving as the collection goes on. The stories of Friday Black are genre-bending and contain elements of surrealism, science fiction, satire, and afrofuturism. Nothing about this collection is easy to define, which of course, is part of the magic.

We discussed Friday Black for The Stacks Book Club with Wade Allain-Marcus, and the conversation is as ranging as the book itself, so please go give it a listen. You can also hear author Adjei-Brenyah as a guest on The Short Stacks talk about how the book came into the world. I found that both of these conversations helped me to form my opinions on this book.

The use of race and violence in this book is genius. We are asked to confront what happens to our society if White capitalist patriarchy is our guiding value. If Black life continues to be made expendable, and if we continue to think that our goodness is tied up in the things we own, where does that path take us?. Friday Black forces us to look at one set of answers to these questions. It is bleak and grotesque in all together terrifying.

The stories that landed most with me were “The Finkelstein 5”, “Zimmerland”, and “Friday Black”. Each one was shocking and smart and violent and thought provoking. They engaged with politics and race as well as engaging with genres and imagery. They felt like anchors for me on my journey through Friday Black.

Friday Black is the kind of story collection that keeps you thinking and working to decipher the many hidden gems and references. I can’t tell you that I “got” all the stories. Some things made little sense to me in the moment, and still remain unclear. However some of the stories have come more into focus as I have time away from the book, and have talked to others about their understandings. The stories feel a little ahead of their time and I wonder how I might feel about Friday Black in 10 or 15 years. I hold out hope that the stories I didn’t quite understand (“The Hospital Where”) will become more clear and more resonant with time.

Adjei-Brenyah uses a lot of satire in this book, and that can often be challenging to decipher, especially in the written word. If you miss the subtleties in the stories, you might just miss the whole point. That rings especially true in the story “Lark Street”, where a young man comes face to face with the twin fetuses that his girlfriend has recently terminated through the use of a morning after pill. If you look at this story out of context, it can feel like a pro-life fable about the autonomy of any form of life. However, in conversation with the other stories, we see a cautionary tale that mocks the idea of embryos being anything other than a collection of cells. That is how these stories work together as a true collection. The topics may vary wildly, but the through line is the tone and the controversial nature of the topics. They all play to the same themes but engage with them on many fronts.

While not every story in the book landed for me, the overall ambition and scope of the project is thrilling. Adjei-Brenyah is debut author with a lot to say, and after reading Friday Black I look forward to whatever is next for him. I hope this project will get produced, as I would love to see the world of Friday Black on the screen.

We have so much more on Friday Blackon the podcast, listen to the episodes below.

  • Paperback: 208
  • PublisherMariner Books; First Edition edition (October 23, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Friday Black on Amazon

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Short Stacks 7: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah//Friday Black

Today on The Short Stacks we’re honored to welcome author of this week’s The Stacks Book Club pick, Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. We talk about his genre-bending short story collection, how the title and cover came to be, and what its like being part of this current moment of exciting and diverse fiction writing. There are no spoilers today.

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. The Stacks participates in affiliate programs, and shopping through the links below (mostly Amazon) helps support the show, at no cost to you.

Connect with Nana: Nana’s Website | Nana’s Twitter | Nana’s Instagram

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | The Stacks Website | Facebook | Twitter | Subscribe | Patreon | Goodreads | Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

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The Stacks received Friday Black from the publisher. For more information click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

B5DEB0BF-DB0D-48AD-9963-60B75E9C0F0BAs far as I can tell, An American Marriage has been the most hyped and talked about book in 2018. The day the book was released it was also announced that it would be part of Oprah’s Book Club which is about as much buzz as a new book can get. So before I read this book (which I of course ordered as soon as I saw it was on Oprah’s list) I knew I was in for something.

If you don’t know much about this book, here is a little synopsis.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

Before I go further, I am trying to talk about An American Marriage without spoilers, but if you haven’t read the book, you might want to proceed with caution.

I enjoyed this book. I read it in about three sittings, the writing is smooth and easy to consume. While I wanted to know what came next, I had already figured out what would happen. There were no surprises (for me). I just wanted to hear Jones tell me her story. Jones is the MVP of this book. She creates a story that is nothing special, with characters that are polarizing and mostly unlikeable (I know some of you might disagree), that I still wanted to read and know where everyone ends up. The book is neither plot driven nor a full introspection on the characters, its somewhere in between. Its a good place to be.

As a reader the main question of this book, is which character do you want to come out on top. Whose side are you on? I had a hard time picking sides. While I felt for Roy, (how could you not?) I also felt for Celestial. Twelve years isn’t a life sentence, but its long enough to destroy a marriage, especially one thats only 18 months old. Its not so much looking for excuses or passing blame, its just that for me, none of it was simple or cut and dry. I could understand where they were coming from and wish it could’ve all played out differently. Or at least that they both had mediators to help them communicate with each other.

Let me also say this, loud and clear, Andre is the worst. What a cornball. I’ll take any team he is not on. Andre is a strong no for me. I couldn’t let this review proceed any further with out getting that all off my chest.

What I’ve discovered from discussing this book with friends and family, is that we all bring to this book whatever we feel about marriage. Thats what makes this book powerful, and worthy of praise, and continued conversation. We all look at Roy and Celestial and we see ourselves and our partners, our failed and successful relationships. The ones that got away, and what we attribute to a successful relationship.  The things we each value most in love; loyalty, forgiveness, communication, physical connection, are the things we base our arguments on for why we’re #TeamRoy or #TeamCelestial. That is the beauty of the book. No matter what you think of the characters and their choices, you see yourself in it, you see yourself navigating this most terrible of situations.

I recommend this book. I’m glad I read it, and met these characters and saw their world. I don’t know that it will stick with me for years to come. I enjoyed it in the moment. It touches on wrongful convictions in a important way, and in a way I’ve never seen in fiction before. Jones asks us to look at the cost of incarceration on those who are ultimately cleared for their crimes. For that alone, this book is worth reading, and lucky for us this book takes on even more. I can’t wait for the movie, it must be coming right?

And since I know you all want to know, and since we’re picking teams, I’m going on the record as #TeamTayari all the way.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Oprah’s Book Club edition (February 6, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy An American Marriage on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

E685FB9E-B8BD-4102-8343-3F3BD1CA6661I went into this book with high expectations. I had seen it all over the internet and some friends were excited about it, too. I purposely did not read anything about the book, and only knew what I gathered from #bookstagram posts. I knew it was a sci-fi book. I knew it was “mind-blowing”. For those of you who aren’t super familiar with this book, here is a little more about it:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

If we’re being honest, even that blurb doesn’t tell you much about the book. The main thing this book has going for it, is suspense. For the majority of the book you have no clue where its going, and what is coming next. You root for Jason to find out whats going on, and you keep rooting for him as the book unfolds. Sure. The book moves fast enough that you don’t even really have time to decide if you care about Jason. Which, by the end I discovered, I didn’t. I did however want the book to be over, with about 75 pages left. I didn’t care how it ended, I just wanted to know how it ended.

I found this book to be cheap and easy. The writing style is so simple, Crouch barely forms complete sentences. I paused my reading a quarter of the way through to see if this book was Young Adult, because it lacked so much nuance (which I don’t mean as a dig at YA, since some YA books are amazing and subtle). Crouch shies away from developing any of the characters, aside from perhaps Jason. He fares the best, which is good for the reader, since we’re stuck with him the whole time.

Another let down in this book was that it just wasn’t original. Sure this exact story has never been told, but the idea that the choices we make could change our whole trajectory is as old as regret itself. Movies like Sliding Doors or Groundhog Day could fit into this genre. There was a lack of specificity in this book, so the characters and story fell flat. It seemed like a prototype of a genre, verses an actual novel.

I know that I am an outlier on this book and lots of people loved this one. So you might like it too. Its an easy read, and its clever in theory. If you enjoy a light suspenseful book, this could work for you. If you’ve read this one, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below.

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Pan Books (August 24, 2017)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy Dark Matter on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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The truth is I had picked up this book two years ago and got 30 pages in and just wasn’t that into it. After hearing about how great it was from a bunch of people, I decided to give it a second chance. This time though, I did it as an audio book. My first audio book in years, and my first ever not on a long road trip. I’m really glad I came back to this book.

If you’re not familiar with this story here is a little more about Station Eleven

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

This is one of those books that will stay with you. It is a realistic and bleak examination of the apocalypse. It’s the end of the world, but without any special effects, zombies, or sci-fi. You’re left with only the realization that the world you once knew is gone, and you still must carry on. What does that look like? What does that mean? Station Eleven is the story of humanity in decline, and then whatever happens after that. Survival. Remembrance. Creation.

Mandel is skillful and deliberate in the telling of this story.  Instead of allowing the audience to escape from the horrors of life-after-pandemic by inundating us with images of death and despair, Mandel forces us to confront these terrifying moments one by one. She is sensitive to the time it takes to process these nightmares, and gently guides the reader through. She weaves the different stories together by dangling details that then become strands carried on throughout the book. Mandel’s writing moves the reader through space and time seamlessly.  There is an ease to her prose and she is delicate with the emotions she brings to the surface. It is a balance between the supremely bleak and the surprisingly hopeful.

Considering how deliberate and crafted this book is, the ending left a lot to be desired. I won’t be spoiling anything here, but I will say, it ties up a little too nicely. Toward the end, Station Eleven veers into the precious which up until this point, Mandel really has fought against. Its clean and neat, in a way post-apocalypse shouldn’t be. I won’t say more.

Since I listened to this book it is worth talking about the narrator, Kirsten Potter. She was fantastic. Her ability to shift between characters without being too over the top was greatly appreciated. She was a perfect compliment to the language and helped to articulate the struggle of the characters and the desperation of the time.

I would cosign anyone who wanted to read this book, but would highly recommend it to those who love speculative fiction, dystopian societies, or stories that weave many character together. This is a solid book with a lot to reflect on. I did not want the story to end.

  • Audio CD: 10 hours 41 minutes
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (September 9, 2014)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Station Eleven in print or audio on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.