Emira Tucker is in her mid-20s and about to be kicked off her parents’ health insurance plan. While her friends are all settling into adulthood – going to grad school, getting their first promotions and first offices – she’s treading water at her day job babysitting Briar Chamberlain, the effervescent child of a “textbook rich” white couple. Emira doesn’t feel like her job counts as a real one even though she adores Briar, her “favourite little human”.
The novel begins with Emira celebrating her friend’s birthday when Mrs Chamberlain, who insists Emira call her Alix, rings and offers her double pay to take Briar out while the Chamberlains deal with an emergency. At the grocery store, an overzealous security guard confronts Emira, who is black, about her “suspicious” presence at the store and questions her guardianship of Briar. The incident, which is recorded by a fellow customer, becomes the fulcrum around which the rest of the narrative turns, culminating in a moment of inevitable tragedy as Emira finds herself the unwilling star of a viral video.
At its heart, Such a Fun Age is a comedy of manners involving Ubers and the intersection between class and race and gig economy anxieties instead of a Restoration-era milieu. Alix Chamberlain, the novel’s other main character, becomes obsessed with Emira, whom she comes to see as part of her family, with all the attendant possessiveness and yearning for approval that implies. Kiley Reid’s depiction of Alix is so finely rendered that she remains compellingly relatable even though she’s the sort of person who congratulates herself for the number of black people at her Thanksgiving dinner table.
Emira and Alix find themselves navigating a situation that neither could have anticipated, and the novel circles around a series of improbable events loosely gathered into a plot. This breezy pace and character work make Such a Fun Age a page-turner, though the voice of Emira – whose main personality trait seems to be that she doesn’t know what to do with her life – can feel flat at times, especially when juxtaposed against the highwire act of Alix’s inner monologue.
The final act sets about resolving the story’s loose ends, leaving things feeling a little abbreviated, particularly after the exhaustive and lived-in nature of the first two-thirds of the novel, but the book remains a keenly observed debut from a promising writer.
Bloomsbury Circus, 320pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 25, 2020 as "Kiley Reid, Such a Fun Age".
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