Celebrating Black History Month: Three New Works of Fiction

Posted on February 26th, 2021 by

Black History Month may be drawing to a close, but it’s not too late to check out these three new fiction books by black authors at Gustavus library.


The cover of Raven Leilani's novel Luster.

“Eric’s enthusiasm is infectious. After the first two rides I’m enjoying myself, and not just because dying means I won’t have to pay my student loans.”

Raven Leilani’s Luster is chock full of lines that will make recent and soon-to-be college grads cry tears of laughter (and of pain.) It’s the story of Edie, a poorly-paid twenty-three year old who works in the children’s department at a New York publisher by day, and spends her nights dating a parade of white men from the office who see her youth and black body as a way to slake the boredom of their midlife crises while getting away from their nettlesome wives. But there’s a lot these men don’t know about Edie: her hard upbringing, her dreams of becoming an artist, the vast disparity of wealth and privilege between her and them, and her growing sympathies with the cheated on wives. A by turns witty and caustic take on the theme of all that glitters is not gold, the book makes light of society’s continued failure to fulfill its promises to young people like Edie.


Cover of Friday Black : Stories by Nan Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

“You’d think the mall would maybe close for a few hours. Let people gather themselves. Maybe light a candle or something. Nope. Buy One Get One stops for no one.”

In the twelve riotously funny dystopian stories in his debut collection Friday Black, reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut and George Saunders, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah takes aim at the racism and late-capitalist materialism that, if followed to an absurdist extreme, may make us stop caring about each other as human beings.

While “The Finkelstein” satirizes yet another case of black kids being murdered in cold blood and their killers getting off, “The Era” posits a world in which “emotional truth-clouding” is a thing of the past, food is an injectable substance called Good, society’s most privileged families “optiselect” their children to have nearly perfect traits, and the children of the less privileged are “unoptimal” or even “shoelookers” who cry all the time due to their inability to restrict their emotions as well as the perfect children do. But this world is thrown into turmoil for Ben, the less optimal son of a rich family, when he meets Leslie, who comes from a traditionalist “anti” family that is keeping up the old ways, and who shows kindness to Ben while he is being bullied. Filled with imaginative fables of near future shopping malls and amusement parks, Friday Black will be a treat for lovers of intelligent science fiction and dystopian stories.


“Yes, he thought about leaving, and yes, he hated it there sometimes. But running through that feeling like hard, resolute bone was something else: It wasn’t so much that he wanted to leave graduate school as that he wanted to leave his life. The truth of that feeling fit under his skin like a new, uncomfortable self, and he couldn’t get rid of it once he acknowledged it. It was all the same, gray waiting, a fear of not being able to take it all back.”

Cover of Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Brandon Taylor’s debut novel Real Life (shortlisted for the 2020 Man Booker Prize) by contrast, is a more pensive and lyrical book about a black and queer biochem student named Wallace, finishing up his PhD in “a Midwestern university town” (which may or may not be Madison, Wisconsin) and feeling emotionally distant from his group of white friends as he tries to forget the trauma of his father’s recent passing. Over the course of one long weekend, Wallace’s carefully prepared lab samples are ruined, and we see Wallace reaching a crisis point, having second thoughts about whether he belongs where he is, whether he made the right decisions in life, or whether he should let it all go to pursue another, realer life. Real Life is novel of fine emotional shading about the uncertainties of belonging and becoming who we want to be.

 

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