Author: Kiley Reid
Finished on: 9 July 2020
Where did I get this book: An audible listen
Aauuwwwggghh. If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be buttock-clenching.
Kiley Reid is such a clever writer; such an astute observer of humanity and our foibles. But aauuwwwggghh.
The story revolves around two women – Alix Chamberlain, who is white and saturated in privilege she has used to build a very modern business writing letters and getting free stuff, and Emira Tucker, who is black and works as a babysitter taking care of Alix’s children. Alix becomes obsessed with Emira and decides they have *got* to be friends, but goes about trying to make that happen in ways that grow increasingly excruciating and dysfunctional.
The event in the book’s blurb – where Emira takes Alix’s daughter Briar out to the shop late at night because the police are on their way to the house (the reason for this being yet another one of the many layers to this brilliantly multifaceted story) and is stopped by the security guard who is suspicious and won’t let her leave – is a focal point of the action, but only one small part of the whole array of events and dynamics Reid dissects in such, yes, buttock-clenching detail.
Racism in many different forms come under the microscope, and so does classism, how much money you have-ism, and the meaning of friendship. One of the most moving themes in the book is authenticity. What does it do to someone to lie to the people around them, and also to themselves, about who they are and the experiences they’ve had? Reid covers a whole spectrum here, too, from downright deception to a vague sense of shame and distance that Alix, in particular, feels towards everything about her background. The scene where she attempts to parody her family’s thanksgiving traditions and ends up replicating them is, oh yes, buttock-clenching.
Reid doesn’t let us fall into easy assumptions as simple as authenticity = good, though. Emira is at the other end of the scale, so chilled and comfortable with herself she’s let life move forward without pursuing any real goals or ambitions. There are different possible interpretations of the fun age of the title – but one would certainly be the mid-twenties struggle to find purpose and meaning in life that Emira is going through.
On top of all this food for thought, there is also some heartbreaking reflection on the damage that can be done by someone with a total lack of self-awareness when they become a mother. What happens when the instagram fantasy is more important than the reality with your family?
This is a profound novel masquerading as a much lighter-hearted one. Or maybe it’s time we recognised that books can be both those things at the same time.
Reid uses our well-honed aauuwwwggghh response – sharpened over years of social media usage – to examine some serious truths about people, the way we relate to each other and to ourselves. It is excellent. And you’ll have buns of steel by the time you’ve finished it.