Many of these stories are about outsider male protagonists, often in a deep state of suffering and desperation. Some desire social, self or peer approval. Financial hardship is a recurring theme. Sometimes, their tales are delivered with the extremes of hyperbole to explore a point; other times, it’s the mind-numbing awfulness of the quotidian. Adjei-Brenyah is a versatile writer who creates a micro-universe with each story that explodes our expectations and takes us inside frustrated lives.
Many stories in the collection have an imaginative prescience that both entertains and calls out injustice in a deeply disturbing manner... Adjei-Brenyah has a sharp, dark sense of humour, reminiscent of contemporary writers... The cohesion of early stories gets lost at times with tighter thematic development and more unified endings needed in stories like The Lion and the Spider... These issues do not, however, detract from the force of Friday Black as a whole. Inventive and resourceful, the collection’s characters are pushed to their very limits by an author pulsing with the injustices of a divided world.
Throughout, these uncanny tales – recognisable but unsettling, like nightmares or secrets you dare not share – draw on real events, such as the mass murder of children. They are rooted in soil where reality is already dialled up to 11: this is America, after all... Composed with brio and rare imaginative power, Friday Black recaptures the strange fear and excitement we first feel as child readers, when we begin to learn that Grimms’ fairytales are approximations of the real world.
In the case of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection Friday Black, the impression is even more intense, closer to being locked in a room with only coke-addled American Psycho Patrick Bateman and his fridge full of severed heads for company. In a good way... Friday Black is an extraordinary first book. 27 year old New Yorker Adjei-Brenyah, whose parents were immigrants from Ghana, seems to have arrived on the scene almost fully formed as a master of the short story craft. He finds devilishly imaginative ways to address racism in America, managing to make blood-freezing political points without ever surrendering the thrill of a great plot, a hypnotic atmosphere, or a crazily compelling character.
In “Friday Black,” Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has written a powerful and important and strange and beautiful collection of stories meant to be read right now, at the end of this year, as we inch ever closer to what feels like an inevitable phenomenal catastrophe or some other kind of radical change, for better or for worse. And when you can’t believe what’s happening in reality, there is no better time to suspend your disbelief and read and trust in a work of fiction — in what it can do.