Masterful, disturbing, prescient: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
What better day to discuss a book called Friday Black than on Black Friday, that most terrifying of commercialised calendar dates? In fact, the titular piece is set on Black Friday, and extreme shopping is reinterpreted as a sort of post-apocalyptic bargain-hunting. Desperate shoppers become a ravening horde and the stampede for the shiniest and best is reimagined as a literal bloodbath in a way that feels darkly funny and also disturbingly prophetic.
Written by the fiercely talented Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, this is a collection of short stories that defies neat genre classifications. One story begins with a murder-suicide and follows the ghosts of the victim and her killer. Another depicts a world caught in an infinite loop of destruction and new beginnings where morality and relational ties are continually being redefined.
Some stories feel like speculative fiction, others are realist, while still others include elements of sci-fi or paint a dystopian picture that skates so close to our reality that it is horrifying. “Zimmerland” describes a near-future world where the experience of justice is gameified so that all can participate in its exhilaration; in reality, however, it’s just another way to legitimise violence and ritualise racial abuse.
The most haunting dystopia is the one that feels imminently possible and perhaps lies in wait just around the corner, and this is where Adjei-Brenyah’s strength lies. There is something coldly mesmerising and foreboding about these tales. They are insightful yet eerily prescient.
The themes that link the collection include brutality and grief, power and powerlessness. To that end, these are not light stories. There are moments of great violence and there is some profanity, two elements that tend to ice my enthusiasm for a book. In particular, I cannot abide violence for its own sake, or profanity ‘just because.’ But the darkness that Adjei-Brenyah paints here in an assured and masterful voice has a purpose. This world is not for the faint of heart, he seems to be saying, and we would do well to take heed. Friday Black is not a book that will make you happy, but it will make you stop and think and perhaps even rage against the injustices of our time, played out so devastatingly familiarly in these pages.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Published October 2018 by Hachette Australia
Short fiction, 194 pages