Examining racial tensions through a satirical lens in Such A Fun Age

Ms.+Kiley+Reid+integrates+social+commentary+and+familial+conflict+within+her+internationally+acclaimed+novel.+++

Claire Moore '22

Ms. Kiley Reid integrates social commentary and familial conflict within her internationally acclaimed novel.

Ms. Kiley Reid’s debut novel Such A Fun Age (2019) received advanced praise for its candid depiction of modern race relations and white liberalism.  This dual narrative, spanning two major metropolitan areas, draws upon the lives of two women, Emira Tucker and Alix Chamberlain, to illustrate wealth and social disparities in America.  In just 322 pages, Ms. Reid crafts an engaging tale of millennial life that scrutinizes racism in every sharp detail.

G.P. Putnam’s Sons published Such A Fun Age in December 2019.  The novel ranked as number three on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction bestseller list within the first week of publication.  Goodreads named Such A Fun Age the Best Debut Novel of 2020.  The book also secured nominations for the Booker Prize and Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction, according to thebookerprizes.com.  In 2021, the Australian Book Industry Awards honored Such A Fun Age as the International Book of the Year, according to abiawards.com.au.   

Such A Fun Age uses transactional relationships to model current racial tensions.  Claire Moore ’22

Such A Fun Age follows Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old Black woman, and her role as a nanny for Alix Chamberlain.  In the book’s opening scene, a security guard at a high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping Alix’s three-year-old daughter, viewing a Black woman out late with a white child as intrinsically suspicious.  The guard holds the pair in the grocery store until the Chamberlains arrive to verify Emira’s identity.  A bystander films the interaction and eventually leaks the video.  This incident shocks Alix, a semi-successful business person, and she resolves to get to know Emira better to right the situation.  Ms. Reid alternates between Emira’s and Alix’s narrative perspectives as she recounts their intertwining story through a lens of piercing social commentary. 

One of the prominent themes in Such A Fun Age is white middle-class privilege and guilt, which Alix exemplifies.  In an interview with Evening Standard, Ms. Reid explained that while many of her Black readers recognized and understood Alix’s behavior, her white audience heavily scrutinized Alix and her flaws.  It is common, Ms. Reid clarified, for the liberal elite to criticize distinctly racist behaviors as a way to differentiate themselves from a system of white supremacy. 

“Race and class feed into each other and inform one another,”  Ms. Reid said, according to standard.co.uk.  “However, I think there’s a tendency among a certain element of our country to focus on race to the exclusion of class.  If you’re a wealthy liberal, decrying systemic racism can become a convenient way to ignore the type of changes that our society would need to actually address that racism, changes that would require you to give up some of your wealth and power.”

Such A Fun Age also addresses the fetishization of the Black community through the bystander, Kelley Copeland, who dated Alix in high school and begins a relationship with Emira midway through the novel.  Although Kelley appears “woke,” his almost exclusively Black dating history and friendships reveal his view of people of color as inherently “cooler” than their white counterparts, according to theguardian.com.  Kelley also appropriates traditional African-American style and vernacular throughout the novel.  

Ms. Reid goes to great lengths to emphasize that Alix and Kelley’s racist behavior in Such A Fun Age does not make them inherently bad people, just representations of bigger, systemic issues in America.  Her novel deftly illustrates how race and privilege play an integral role in both selfhood and relationships with others through demonstrating the prevalence of microaggressions, ignorance, and unconscious bias in everyday interactions, according to harvardreview.org.   

“A lot of white supremacy comes with a smile, unknowingness, and good intentions,” Ms. Reid said in an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Kiley Reid and Trever Noah discuss her novel’s nuanced depiction of race and class in America. Courtesy of cc.com

Ms. Reid lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the primary setting of Such A Fun Age.  She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting from Marymount Manhattan College and recently graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received the Truman Capote Fellowship, according to kileyreid.com.  Currently, Ms. Reid is a Visiting Instructor and Writer in Residence at Temple University’s Master of Fine Arts program.

In collaboration with Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Ms. Lena Waithe, Ms. Reid is adapting Such A Fun Age into a movie.  The coronavirus pandemic stalled production and there is no official release date, but Sight Unseen Pictures has acquired the film rights.  

While conversing with South African comedian-activist Mr. Trevor Noah, Ms. Reid described Such A Fun Age’s relevance in the film world, citing the text as a time-honored tale of racial tensions with technology as the only modern element.

“I think in many ways, this is a really old story of a Black caregiver and a white woman and a white child whose interactions are really precarious and charged,”  Ms. Reid said, according to thedailyshow.com.  “From the very first chapter, Emira is accused of kidnapping this child and she is humiliated.  What makes this story different is that someone pulls out a cell phone and the relationship towards this racist incident becomes different when it is seen first hand.”

Featured Image by Claire Moore ’22