Review: “Friday Black” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Last year was the year I got back into short stories. I actually read quite a few collections, most of which were excellent and therefore highly recommendable. For a while, I was reading like a mad person, cranking out reviews, and in my spare time, I went to work. Then something weird happened: work took over more and more of that precious time formerly dedicated to books! The truth is, I had “Friday Black” finished months ago, and here we are, only getting around to talking about it!

Let’s start with the summary: these twelve stories are compelling, thought-provoking, told from fresh, unique viewpoints that will send hooks into your brain and hang on long after you’ve closed the last page. Some stories are exaggerated accounts of events many of us have witnessed, like the absolute craziness during big sales., like in the title story or ‘In Retail.’ Others are social observations with a sci-fi twist, like ‘The Era’, ‘Zimmer Land’, or the closing story, ‘Through the Flash.’ These narratives get up close and personal with some uncomfortable situations and characters, which translates into requiring the reader to take time for proper digestion. This is an amazing collection, but you will not breeze through it in an afternoon, nor should you.

To learn more about the author and what inspired “Friday Black”, take some time to listen to this review podcast by the New York Times.

“Friday Black” is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I was lucky to snag an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

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Review: “How to Love a Jamaican” by Alexia Arthurs

Short stories are a genre I never paid much attention to. Sure, I have some Bradbury on my shelf, alongside Salinger and Roald Dahl, but the label “short story” was not a good endorsement to get me to read a particular book – until recently. Interestingly, it’s been the young, female writers that have awakened a never-before-suspected passion for story collections (and poetry, but that is another thing altogether). Alexia Arthurs is one of these writers that should not be missed.

The most significant summary of Ms Arthurs’s biography is the fact that she was “born and raised in Jamaica and moved with her family to Brooklyn when she was twelve.” This real-life experience informs the characters and narratives in “How to Love a Jamaican.” The primary focus lies on female characters (although brothers, lovers, fathers, and other males are definitely present, and one story is even told from the perspective of a male narrator): Mothers and daughters, grandmothers, best friends, and even mermaids make appearances. Ms Arthurs ponders questions of identity and heritage, often leaving her characters in a state of tension as they struggle with finding a place for themselves in their given circumstances. From the get-go, her writing style is lively and immediately engaging. I found myself looking forward to meeting each new character as one story after another unfolded among the pages. Often, the reader is left with a sense of profound loss or melancholy, a clear sign of how masterfully Ms Arthurs manages to engage her audience.

Oddly, the one story that did not resonate with me at all was the rather long title story, and the reason for this disconnect was the irritating use of grammar. Within the narrative, Arthurs continually switches between past and present tense, without a clear indication of the purpose of this narrative device. While the main character, a successful singer more than casually reminiscent of Rihanna, clearly struggles with her own loneliness and the death of an acquaintance, this pain stays well locked on the page, making her seem distant and therefore not quite relatable. Then again, never having been a famous anything myself, perhaps I’m missing a crucial piece of experience in order to fully “feel” the story.

“How to Love a Jamaican” is published by Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine. I was provided a copy by Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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