I can’t tell you how conflicted I am today, my friends. It’s miserable out. Snowing a bit, blowing a lot. The river looks cold. Even the geese look miserable, swimming jerkily, feathers ruffling in the wind. Brrr. I will not be venturing out. It’s the perfect kind of day to hunker down with my book. It is, in fact, the beginning of hunker down with a book season. Am I right?
And yet, and yet, I’m not reading. I’m writing this post. Partly because I want to tell you guys about the great books I’ve been reading, and the great books I have on order, and hope to read soon. And partly because I’ve just finished a wonderful book, and I’m sad that it’s done. And I’m not ready to fill the space in my head that it occupies, not ready to start thinking about other characters and other plots just yet.
The book I’m talking about is Kiley Reid’s novel Such a Fun Age. Oh my, I loved this book. It’s the story of a young black woman in Philadelphia, who works as a babysitter for a well-off white family. The babysitter Emira is a college graduate who seems to be drifting a bit in life, unable to find her adult identity. Hence she is, as her friends say, “still” babysitting.
The white family for whom Emira works is upwardly mobile; the dad, Peter, is a local television journalist, and the mum, Alix, is an internet “influencer” who has rocketed her business to fame, and hopefully fortune, by teaching others that etiquette, in particular skillful letter writing, can get you what you want. Alix has recently had a second child and Emira’s job is primarily to take care of the elder child, three year old Briar. A precocious, very vocal, and utterly charming toddler with whom Emira immediately bonds. As does the reader. I loved that kid, due of course to Kiley Reid’s wonderful writing and her pitch perfect ear for dialogue.
But Such a Fun Age is NOT a book about domestic harmony. Instead it explores the subtleties of race relations in America, and the consequences of supposedly achieving white “wokeness” without having a clue about the daily realities of being black.
The novel begins when Alix calls Emira at eleven o’clock at night, asks her to leave her friend’s birthday party, and please take Briar for an hour or two while she and her husband deal with police and the aftermath of their house being vandalized. Emira with Briar in tow kills time in a local upscale, all-night grocery store, and is cornered by a belligerent security guard and a suspicious shopper, who threaten to call the police because they believe that Emira has kidnapped her white charge. Emira faces what one reviewer calls the “gentrified version of driving while black.” The situation is diffused when Emira calls Briar’s dad, Peter, and he arrives to explain. But she is shaken nonetheless, knowing that it could have so easily gone very wrong.
So yeah. That’s the beginning of the book. And the beginning of a plot that certainly had me captivated. Emira’s career choices, her fears for her future. Alix’s fears that with her second child and her move from New York to Philadelphia she has jeopardized her “cool factor” and her rise to fame and fortune. Alix’s increasing obsession with her black sitter, her cringe-worthy moves to befriend Emira and help her whether she wants help or not. Then there’s Emira’s protective white boyfriend Kelley, who met Emira that night in the grocery store, filmed the incident, and subsequently encourages Emira to seek “justice” when Emira just wants to forget the whole thing.
Who is using whom, might be the main question of the novel. Along with issues of mothering, paid mothering, career choices, inter-racial relationships (romantic and otherwise) and white “allyship.” And surprisingly, the whole idea of health insurance, who has it and who doesn’t. Which as a Canadian is not something I think about much.
Funny when I began to write my post, I couldn’t think of a thing to say about this book. And once started, I now seem to have blithered on and on. I first heard about Such a Fun Age when Kiley Reid was interviewed on the CBC radio program “Q”. You can read about, and listen to that interview here if you’re interested. I highly recommend Reid’s book. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s nothing more than a “light read.” Oh sure, it’s definitely easy to read. There is no obvious tragedy, no blood, death, or destruction, no hit you over the head symbolic, life-changing moments. I would say that it’s light reading in the way Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac is light. Perceptive, captivating, and subtly life-altering in that, when you’re finished, I’ll bet you’ll still be thinking about it. Like I am.
In other book news. I just finished the latest Peter Grainger mystery Roxanne. Hubby and I both really like Grainger’s work. He is such a competent writer. His plots never veer into silly complications that cannot be explained; they never resort to the increasingly common phenomena of fifteen stupid plot twists in the last ten pages. That kind of novel drives me nuts. I love Grainger’s characters. And although in these last two books I miss the presence of D.C. Smith, I have a feeling that might change. I wonder if DC is about to become a bigger part of the books again. Anyway, you can’t go wrong with a Peter Grainger book in my view. They make great hunker down reading in front of the fire. I should add that you have to be willing to read the electronic version because they are not published in hard copy.
I’m waiting for several books currently reserved at the Ottawa Public Library. The newest Peter Lovesey novel, The Finisher. Lovesey who, while not as good as some of the other Peters I love (namely May, Robinson, and Grainger), writes a good mystery. And I’m quite partial to his Peter Diamond character. Ha. Seems there are more Peters than we can shake a stick at in this post. I’ve ordered Richard Osman’s book The Thursday Murder Club, recommended by a reader of this blog. And also a book called Three Daughters of Eve by Turkish writer Elif Shafak. I think it was Dottoressa who said she was reading this author. And I was surprised and pleased that our library has her books.
On deck next for me, are two newly purchased books by writers I have read and loved before.
I pre-ordered Rachel Joyce’s latest novel, Miss Benson’s Beetle, a while ago. Because I love Rachel Joyce’s writing. And because I thought it might be one of those wonderfully wry, gentle, and charming books I love so much, like the best of Ursula Orange or Anita Brookner. In my view, you can’t go wrong with a book about spinsters, or “left-over women,” a post war world, and a journey of self-discovery. But you’ll know that already if you’ve been around here for a while; I’ve written about spinsters and their place in some of my favourite books before.
Since the two main characters in Miss Benson’s Beetle journey to New Caledonia in search of an undiscovered species of beetle, I pictured a kind of combination of Lily King’s novel Euphoria, based on the life of Margaret Mead, the gentleness of Joyce’s earlier novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and the doughty spinsters of Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. Katy Guest in her review in The Guardian definitely seems to love the book, so we’ll see if I was right. I’ll get stuck into this one soon.
Right after I read Tana French’s The Searcher. I am particularly looking forward to French’s latest book. It’s always a good week when I get my hands on a new Tana French work. I love her Dublin Murder Squad series. And Maureen Corrigan in her review in The Washington Post says this new Tana French stand-alone novel may be her best yet. In fact, just reading Corrigan’s review has made me feel a bit less conflicted about not reading. And makes me want to hurry to finish this post so I can have an hour to hunker down on the sofa with French’s book.
So, tis the season to hunker down with a good book, my friends.
Today is cold. And we’ve had snow flurries. The wind is whirling leaves sideways past my window. The fire is flickering in the living room. I can hear that the kettle has clicked off in the kitchen. That means it’s time for me to go now.
I feel a whole lot of hunkering coming on.
P.S. The book links in the text of this post are affiliate links with Amazon. That means if you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
P.P.S. If you live in the U.S. and would prefer not to shop on Amazon, you can find links to all the books I’ve discussed here on Bookshop.org Bookshop.org supports independent book stores in the U.S. .