Edgy humor and fierce imagery coexist in these stories with shrewd characterization and humane intelligence, inspired by volatile material sliced off the front pages.
The state of race relations in post-millennial America haunts most of the stories in this debut collection. Yet Adjei-Brenyah brings to what pundits label our “ongoing racial dialogue” a deadpan style, an acerbic perspective, and a wicked imagination that collectively upend readers’ expectations. “The Finkelstein 5,” the opener, deals with the furor surrounding the murder trial of a white man claiming self-defense in slaughtering five black children with a chainsaw. The story is as prickly in its view toward black citizens seeking their own justice as it is pitiless toward white bigots pressing for an acquittal. An even more caustic companion story, “Zimmer Land,” is told from the perspective of an African-American employee of a mythical theme park whose white patrons are encouraged to act out their fantasies of dispensing brutal justice to people of color they regard as threatening on sight, or “problem solving," as its mission statement calls it. Such dystopian motifs recur throughout the collection: “The Era,” for example, identifies oppressive class divisions in a post-apocalyptic school district where self-esteem seems obtainable only through regular injections of a controlled substance called “Good.” The title story, meanwhile, riotously reimagines holiday shopping as the blood-spattered zombie movie you sometimes fear it could be in real life. As alternately gaudy and bleak as such visions are, there’s more in Adjei-Brenyah’s quiver besides tough-minded satire, as exhibited in “The Lion & the Spider,” a tender coming-of-age story cleverly framed in the context of an African fable.