I hesitate to pour acclaim on a such a talented young writer, Nana Kwame-Adjei. Sometimes it’s better to learn the fiction craft out of the literary spotlight. And don’t be fooled by the exotic name. He is an American original. In the same way, say Saul Bellow, was an original. But Bellow didn’t had the range that Adjei-Brenyah has, as these stories show. And in the first story, “The Finkelstein 5,” Adjei-Brenyah shows he that he can pull off the kind of acid satire that Jonathan Swift specialized in the 18th Century. I am thinking of Swift’s story, “A Modest Proposal,” in which the narrator suggested that to end a food shortage, people should consume babies.
The first story of Adjei-Brenyah starts with Emmanuel a young black man hoping to get into a job interview. He has been modulating his telephone to hide that he is black. Using a one a ten-point scale, he manages to get it down 1.5. “Hi, there, how are you doing today? Yes, yes…If he wore a tie,” and he used his indoor voice he might be invited to an interview. For some time, he practices to get his telephone voice so he can sound like a white American. In the best days, he manages to get his telephone down to 1.5. But soon the story careens into a court of law. For Kafkaesque reasons, a white character of the name George Wilson Dunn is on the stand.
Because the entire court was filled with white people, and the court is in South Carolina, “the court had ruled that the children were basically loitering and not actually inside the library reading, as one might expect of productive members of society…On one side of the broadcast world, anchors wept openly, for the children, who were saints.” I will just say that this story couldn’t be made into a movie: too gory. And the innocents come to a terrible end, in a rather “splashy” ending.
“The Era” is another one of my favorites of stories The scene is a high school history lesson, perhaps 50 years into the future. The teacher, Mr. Harper, the history teacher, has given this lecture many, many times. His students learn about before the Turn, which is not explained. Students are learning about the Big Quick War, which came after the Long Big War.” Readers learn that this has been going on for decades. An important innovation for students is to have a chip implanted into their brains.” Some students are “clear-born.”–what our era would call “challenged.” “And since I’m a clear-born,” third look while they can they look.” But even staring at the videos and pictures are better is than I can do,” according to this very slow reader.
“Lark Street,” the next story, could not be any more different than the previous stories. The couple is divided. It’s not just they are divided. The woman is expecting twins. As is typical in such situations, the guy is usually more ready to abort the fetus. The story opens with a striking image: “an impossible hand punched my earlobe….It’s a metaphor, Daddy, said in a new voice….She plopped down so she was sitting beside. At the end of the story, the young woman (or teenager?). The ending is a stunner.
“In the hospital where” describes a rather distant father-son relationship. The father is slowly dying, and to pass the time, he looks through his son’s writing. “What are you reading?” the father asks. “I don’t know,” the son replies. (I love that line.) A moment later, the son comments, “It felt like I was announcing I was for some huge office as a Green Party candidate…His curiosity stunned me.” For the first time, his dad, slowly dying, for the first time. And the son’s reply was, “I don’t know.”
Male writers tend to end up writing about their dads, often after they are gone. Drawing on imagery of “of the Twelve-tongued God…Still, I craved more tongues, new worlds to live in new worlds in. I loved. I was very lonely.” It’s hard to miss the phallic overtones, while his dad continues to decline.
The last of these twelve stories is the most powerful.
When I realized that this story was about a random shooting at a college, my hopes sunk for a time. Don’t we have enough crazy people ready to get their fifteen minutes of infamy? But I was wrong. Once the shooting is over, the story sings. The first bit of important information is that the guy is an outcast. That tends to be typical with school shootings. In this fictional version has a mordant touch, the shooter wasn’t even welcome at the local “Free to Hate rally.” But it turns out that the guy known as Fuckton is actually someone else. When things get going, it turns out that a guy named as Porter was the killer. In the meantime, a celestial comedy commences.
But no one forgets that terrible violence caused by the shooting. As Adjie-Brenyah notes. “There’s a shriek, and Fuckton looks around…The face is so broken. It terrifies him. There’s blood everywhere. On his lips, in his hair.” In a comic vein, Deidre comments,” Just die already!’” Deirdra says, the tips of her horns igniting.” “Dang.” goes on. “Transcending is like a tryout.”
On the last paragraph of this remarkable collection of Adjie-Brenyah closes, “Even the apocalypse isn’t the end. That, you could only when you’re could. And if you are alone, posed like a dancer, when it comes, and you are with your family or anyone at all, when it comes, you feel silly and scared, but at least not alone.”