This review contains spoilers.
Kiley Reid’s debut novel is a superb satire on good intentioned white people.
Alix Chamberlain, the white woman boss and lifestyle guru, is at the centre of this story.
Alix(neé Alex Murphy) built her career as cover-letter-writer and Project Manager off her products review blog and part time job at student recruitment when she was in college. Alix is now a mother to Catherine and Briar, and wife to journalist and news caster, Peter Chamberlain. She moves from New York to Philadelphia following the news of her second pregnancy, which “had always been the plan” as Alix wanted “a backyard to put children inside.”
After her move and the birth of her second daughter, Catherine, Alix goes in search of a sitter for Briar, the less loved child. She finds Emira Tucker, who is a black college graduate on the journey of discovering herself.
The Tucker family is known for what they can do with their hands. Kiley writes that they “…have a proclivity toward craftmanship that is so dogged, it leaned into religious territory…”
Mr Tucker owns a bee store, Mrs Tucker binds books, Alfie Tucker, Emira’s brother, is an award winning artist and Justine Tucker, Emira’s younger sister, sews and owns an Etsy shop. Emira is the first of her family to go to a four-year college, but that leaves her even more confused on her purpose.
While Emira waits for her “hands to find themselves”, she creates a photoless profile on SitterTown.com, upon which Alix Chamberlain stumbles on. When Alix realizes Emira knows nothing about her previous work or her LetHer Speak project, she hires her.
One evening, after the Chamberlain residence is egged in response to Mr Chamberlain’s on-air racist gaffe at his news caster job on the local news, Alix calls on Emira to take Briar to a grocery store. At the store, Emira is profiled and harrased simply for being in possession of white Briar. On getting news of this, while still processing Peter’s racist blunder, Alix decides to “wake the fuck up… And get to know Emira Tucker.”
In getting to know Emira Tucker, Alix becomes border obsessed. Alix finds out, by invading Emira’s privacy, that she is dating someone. That someone happens to be one of Alix’s previous lovers, Kelley Copeland, who has a glaring history of fetishizing black people.
Such a Fun Age was surprisingly predictable, but where Kiley fails in shock factor, she succeeds in her ability to write about race without really writing about it. It becomes painfully obvious that the victim in this story is Emira Tucker, who is unfortunately stuck in this world of overbearing white people trying to prove how not-racist they are. Alix with how many black people she has around her and Kelley with how woke and in the loop he is about Black culture.
This book is relatable as it’s set in a time not too far from now (2015) and speaks to current issues going on in the United States.
Being black in the USA is something I have never experienced. What this book tells me about the black experience across the Atlantic is this: it. is. exhausting. Despite the fact that black people have lived hundreds of years in America, their white counterparts still haven’t gotten around learning to coexist with them, without pulling the im-not-racist act. And I guess that’s most likely because racism still exists there.
I don’t think Alix and Kelley are bad people. I think good intentioned white people like Alix and Kelley should channel that energy they use in trying to prove they aren’t racist and that they love all black people and all black culture, into fighting systemic racism. They should challenge their privilege, learn boundaries and stop using black people as props to prove how wyt they aren’t.
I love when Emira said these words concerning the incident at the supermarket to Kelley: “I don’t need you to be angry that it happened… I need you to be angry that it happens.”
It’s important to see color in the way Alix and Kelley do, but what you see when you see color, when you see brown skin on brown bodies, is just as important too.