Ok. So for the first third of Such a Fun Age I thought, “this is entertaining. Yass, supportive girlfriends. Great random toddler stuff, but why is this on the #BookerLonglist, and what is with Emira, an assertive, yet unambitious young Black woman character?”
And then someone does something shady & this novel shifts from breezy to sinister & Emira’s characterization starts to make sense. With sly brilliance, it lures the reader into thinking it’s about a Emira’s finding herself through soul searching & climbing ambition, but it withholds the narrative of a Black striver to shed light on other things. It is sharply critical of the banal racism at the core of white suburban domesticity. It’s like one minute we’re kekeing and in the next we’re in the sunken place. I thought the novel would stay in the safe zone of woke white people, but this abrupt shift is part of the novel’s cleverness about complacency and the sinister side of white wokeness.
Emira’s positioning between Alix & Kelly — the former Emira’s boss, the latter Emira’s current boyfriend (both white) — represents far more than a trifling love triangle. It is a nuanced exploration of the age old themes of racist & sexist power imbalances in domestic work places & sexual relationships, as well as how these themes are complicated in the digital age of social media & momtrepreneurs.
One could think of this book as the novel & female version of Get Out. I found myself yelling — out loud — at the audiobook, “run, Emira, run! Dont go in the sunken place!” Book yelling aside though, one bad actor does come off way worse than others in the novel. Given our current moment of civil unrest & protests over racist police violence though, this 2019 novel, that is set in 2015, is prophetic in its anticipation of the hot mess that is 2020: this Covid age of Ken & Karen under Trump.
Such A Fun Age is a strong debut novel & my favorite so far because it’s unassuming but hella shy, and it left me shook.