A thought-provoking and powerful story of race in modern America
Bloomsbury Publishing 2019
Although I am not American, I delved deeply into this book and gained a new understanding of the subtleties of race relations in this country. There is surprising layers of depth to this book, not only about race but also about how race intersects with money and class as well.
The book’s crisis point centres around its two main characters. Alix Chamberlain, an Ango-saxon ‘mommy-blogger/influencer’ who lives a swanky and rather impressive middle-class life, and Emira the African American babysitter of her toddler Briar.
One night, after an unexpected incident in her home, Alix calls up Emira to take Briar out of the house to the shops, while the police come to question her. Emira comes straight over from a party, dressed up like she’s going out clubbing. She takes the toddler Briar out of the family house to the wholefoods store to kill some time. Inside of the store, a white busy-body type speaks to a security guard and then a white security guard accuses her of kidnapping the little white toddler. This is done in a physically aggressive, condescending and horrific way.
Afterwards, this creates a catastrophic shitstorm for the young African American woman who has to tackle head-on the prejudice and skin-colour based racism of her world.
Afterwards, Alix makes awkward, self-conscious and guilt-ridden attempts to right the situation. By attempting to befriend Emira, obsessing over her, idolising her and all sorts of cringe-inducing tactics to make up for what happened in the supermarket.
The uneasy tension of skin colour and racism that lays right under the surface of daily life in Such a Fun Age makes this book both compelling and heartbreaking. Racism is a problem everywhere and it’s often shrouded in a variety of guises. It can come out unbidden at the most unexpected moments. As person who is a bit brown, exotic looking, difficult to place, I can relate to this sudden and unexpected turmoil that can happen at any time.
For Emira, there is the heartbreaking financial uncertainty of being a young woman who is fast approaching her 25th birthday and who must find permanent ‘proper’ employment or else she won’t be eligible for her parents health insurance. This aspect of the book is an American problem, as this simply doesn’t happen in other parts of the developed world.
For people in Europe, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, there is a baseline level of care, such as through either the NHS (in the UK) or Medicare (in Australia). This made me feel sad for friends in America who are working class and actually deal with this drama, the need to secure permanent work in order to secure healthcare. It seems to me like an unnecessary stress.
The uneasy, awkward and stilted relationship between Emira Tucker and Alix Chamberlain is powerfully rendered, the American culture they inhabit in the book is shot through with inequalities, agitating inconsistencies. There’s a sense that life is a marathon race and that some people have a clear head-start, whereas others wait for a long time after the starting gun.
I was expecting this to be some kind of ‘woke’ book about class and race privilege, in some ways it is. Although Such a Fun Age is highly political, it is also written in a sensitive, subtle and emotionally charged way that is really haunting and stays with you for a long time after you read it.