In Kiley Reid’s debut novel “Such a Fun Age,” we are introduced to two women with very different lives—Emira Tucker and her employer Alix Chamberlain. Reid successfully dodges the trap of Emira Tucker being a subservient stereotype to her wealthy and controlling white boss by doing three things—Reid complicates the emotional lives and understanding of each character, emphasizes the tenderness shared between Emira and an inquisitive child Briar, and by starting the novel with a case of “shopping while black” when Emira is stopped by an upscale grocery store security guard (and another white shopper) who assumes that she has abducted Briar.
Luckily, the interaction does not escalate because Briar’s father comes down to the store and intervenes, but it sets a chain of events into motion where Emira meets a bystander who video-records the situation. His name is Kelley Copeland. Meanwhile, Alix Chamberlain increases her attempts to manipulate a purported friendship with Emira. As these characters engage with each other more deeply, the dialogue about how race pervades day-to-day interactions doesn’t come across heavy handed, but instead shows how subtle racism in routine life forces someone like Emira to make choices in her life.
As a twentysomething black woman working and living in Philadelphia with supportive friends finding success in their careers, Emira Tucker is relatable because she is like so many college graduates who are seeking out their path. Emira is asking herself what work could I love, and why haven’t I found it yet. These resonant concerns, even as she parties with her friends Shaunie, Zara and Josefina, make her someone who is way more complicated than most of the other novels out there that portray any black woman doing any work in someone else’s house, which is really what should happen in the first place, if credible characters want to come alive.
Reid does not shy away from showing how Alix Chamberlain’s past and insecurities fuel her necessity to constantly shape her overall narrative, whether it’s her career or her family life. As the story proceeds, there’s a clear connection to her obliviousness about race and how Alix is fixated on how she perceives herself. As Emira discovers that Alix is not completely transparent, Emira makes a decision that lets her move forward on her own terms.
“Such a Fun Age” offers a satisfying resolution, but it is also a story about a young woman claiming the rest of her life, instead of letting other people cash in on her time and energy. That kind of story isn’t always about someone traveling overseas or having a huge triumph. The actual story can be realizing that you are valuable and you have to tell some of the sweetest parts of a bad situation goodbye so you can save yourself.
Kiley Reid will discuss “Such a Fun Age” with Claire Lombardo at Madison Street Books on February 5, 2020 at 7pm.
Such a Fun Age
By Kiley Reid
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 305 pages
Newcity Lit Editor Tara Betts is the author of “Break the Habit” and “Arc & Hue.” Her interviews and features have appeared in publications such as Hello Giggles, Mosaic Magazine, NYLON, The Source, Sixty Inches from Center, and Poetry magazine. She also hosts author chats at the Seminary Co-Op bookstores in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.