- What: Such a Fun Age
- Who: Kiley Reid
- Pages: 305, hard cover
- Genres: Contemporary fiction
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flames
One of the greatest gifts that The Biblio Files has given me is the light it has shed on my own microaggressions — how my own whiteness leaves me completely ignorant sometimes. And it’s truly a gift because it forces me to see where I can grow and improve even if it’s hard to accept.
There have been many editing sessions where I cringe at something I say. I never intend disrespect, and sometimes it’s really just nerves; however, I recognize that intent and meaning are two different things. And sometimes it’s the way I say something. I have, for example, a nervous laugh that usually accompanies something uncomfortable. In a recent episode, I deleted about 10 seconds of a conversation about catcalling because I was laughing about being catcalled while leaving the gym. When this happened, I didn’t find it funny at all, and I still don’t today. So why do I laugh at something so terrible?
Because I’m human, not perfect, and far from woke. Hearing yourself after you say something is the greatest way to recognize your flaws (that whole hindsight thing), and boy, am I observing and trying to rectify mine.
Microagressions, intersectionality, being “woke” in the 21st century, and ignorance all play key roles in Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, a 2019 novel that’s getting all the rage. It could not come at a more perfect time — for me and for the entire world.
Emira Tucker is a typical 25-year-old. She has a fun and supportive group of girlfriends who she likes to go out with. The first of the month rent check always takes up space in her subconscious, and she fears her looming birthday when she’ll have to find her own health insurance. She also has no clue what she wants to do with her life. Emira goes through the motions every day.
One more thing: She’s black, which only intensifies her struggles.
She does, though, love babysitting a little girl named Briar who asks a lot of existential and curious questions and never stops talking. Briar is also often ignored by her cringeworthy mother, Alix Chamberlain, who favors her quiet and calm infant, Catherine.
Emira is good with Briar, so much so that Alix and her husband ask Emira to leave a party one night to watch Briar after an emergency at their house. While hanging out in a nearby grocery store, a security man suspects Emira of kidnapping Briar. Why would a black woman in a short party dress be watching this little white girl?
Emira just wants to put the traumatic and blatant racial profiling behind her even though a white man who filmed it insists she does more. Alix also offers to help Emira with the situation and tries desperately to become best friends with her. Despite Alix’s good intentions, Emira doesn’t quite trust her or let her in, and she has good reasons. Alix is too blinded by her own white privilege and convinced of her progressiveness to be a true ally. (She lived in New York — the most diverse city! She has a black friend AND a Jewish Asian friend! She must be woke.) When a person from Alix’s past enters Emira’s life, the negative realities of microagressions; fetishizing and appropriating cultures; our troubling health care system; and adulting all coalesce, forcing readers to confront their own ugliness.
“‘I don’t need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad that it just like … happens.'” — Such a Fun Age
If Emira’s experience at the grocery store sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve heard this story too many times before. This isn’t a one-off incident that happens to fictional characters. It’s quintessential racial profiling and occurs every day for black people. Just last month, Amy Cooper called the cops on a black man, Christian Cooper, in Central Park when he asked her to leash her dog. If you think that’s not racism, ask yourself if that would have ever happened if a white man had asked her.
The racial profiling scene isn’t even the most powerful part of the novel though. That comes in Reid’s expert crafting and characterization of Alix, of whom there are many many real-life examples. She’s your typical upper-middle class mommy blogger who doesn’t see color, and her actions and interactions with Emira speak volumes about her true character and ignorance.
Most of the details in Such a Fun Age seem relatively mundane: Alix frequently spying and obsessing over the notifications on Emira’s phone, Emira putting on a polo when she enters the Chamberlain’s home every day, Alix phoning her sole black friend for advice or validation, Alix hiring a black woman to watch her child in the first place (what year is this again?) and frequently offering Emira free food and wine (those scenes just ooze with condescension). The way Reid has written these moments is meant to feel like just another day; they aren’t traumatizing in the immediate sense of the word. They do, however, possess a very pointed meaning about our daily interactions with diversity, and they serve a huge purpose in this novel.
In an interview with Trevor Noah, Reid discusses how big systemic issues that produce discriminatory environments also allow microaggressions like Alix’s to snowball and how these smaller moments can really affect someone. I’m a big fan of everything Reid has to say, so please check out this interview.
Don’t think, though, that this novel is rooted in only heavy content and dialogue and will leave you with only existential thoughts about the state of this country (though it should make you question our country — a lot). While the foundation for telling this story does and should weigh heavily on you, Reid delivers it with comedic flavor. As Stephanie Hayes from The Atlantic writes, Reid “satirize[s] the white pursuit of wokeness.”
There are many moments that will make you giggle or scratch your head in utter disbelief. The Daily Show interview should indicate that Reid loves employing a sense of humor, especially to prove a greater point.
“… The one thing she still had was the freedom to follow the narrative that suited her best.” — Such a Fun Age (Sounds like white privilege to me.)
While Reid certainly excels at telling an interesting story and for incorporating many complexities, they can sometimes overwhelm. At certain points, I found myself questioning if this novel was about domestic labor, appropriation, health care, a lack of direction, or racism. Yes, it can be about all of them and how they influence one another. That’s intersectionality at its core. But I’m not sure they were clearly woven together in every chapter. They seem to live as separate plot points in this novel when that’s certainly not the case or what Reid intended.
Also, there were some definite grammatical errors.
And it was distracting.
There I said it.
Reid is strongest when she’s making her readers uncomfortable, which will happen a lot for white people in this novel. And that is the best outcome an author can hope for. Books should make us question everything we know and confront our demons and ugliest sides. Reid does this by giving us new perspectives, but she also throws white people’s own unwoke perspectives in our faces.
I stand for equality for all people. But do I embody this belief in everything I say or do or understand? Thankfully, this book forces me to ask those questions because I have some work to do. We all do.