Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s short stories reveal the insanity and violence of our society
Evoking the murders of unarmed black men, this collection is meant to appall us.
In “The Fiction Writer and His Country,” Flannery O’Connor famously explained her method for writing short stories: “for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures; to the hard of hearing you shout.”
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is a new writer with a striking ability to do as O’Connor suggests. Many of the stories are exaggerated, overdrawn to the point of being bold and strange. Because of the way they play with caricature, you can argue with them and say, “Life doesn’t really look like that. People don’t act that way.” And then you recognize that the larger-than-life nature of the story has been drawn for your benefit. You are the hard of hearing; you are the almost blind.
The opening story, “The Finkelstein 5,” begins on an ordinary morning when the narrator, Emmanuel, is getting dressed for a job interview and has to decide how black he wants to appear. This isn’t a question of skin color, he tells us, because his skin is a “deep, constant brown.” It has to do with subtler things: clothing choices, how he chooses to walk or wear his baseball cap, his speech. On the phone, he can get his blackness down to a 1.5 on a 10-point scale. But in person, he can never go lower than a 4.0, no matter what he does.