Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
7th January 2020
Already earning huge advance praise, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid really is the first must-read novel of 2020
Smart and insightful, with engaging characters and word-perfect, fiery dialogue, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is soon to be the debut novel everyone is talking about.
Here you can read an exclusive Q&A with Kiley Reid, followed by two short extracts, one for each of the two main characters, to really give you an insight into these two women at the heart of this skillfully interwoven tale of race relations, motherhood, age and friendship.
Could you tell us a little about your debut novel, Such a Fun Age, please?
Such A Fun Age starts on a Saturday night in Philadelphia. Emira Tucker is a 25-year-old babysitter and she's with her friends at a party when her employer, Alix Chamberlain, calls and asks her to babysit while she deals with a family emergency. Emira is in need of the cash so she says yes, and she takes three-year-old Briar to the grocery store to pass the time. But then, a customer and a security guard, upon seeing a black woman with a white child, accuse her of kidnapping. Emira is humiliated, a bystander films the incident, and Alix sets out to right the night's wrongs. But from there it turns into a comedy of good intentions as Alix and Emira learn that they have something in common.
Emira and Alix are such different characters, yet you've written them with such nuance and depth; was it difficult to balance the progression of both characters, along with the entwined plot strands?
There were certain scenes where it was difficult to know which woman's point of view would be the most enjoyable to the reader and important to the story. But even when I had to delete some pages and change the point of view, exploring how the other woman would respond to the moment was always beneficial.
With Lullaby by Leila Slimani, Devotion by Madeline Stevens, and now Such a Fun Age, all published with the last 18 months and featuring a nanny or babysitter as the central character, while the novel explores bigger themes and issues, what is it about childcare that makes it such a springboard into great fiction?
Childcare, especially within the United States, is such a ripe opportunity to explore ownership and family dynamics. I love reading and writing about characters that struggle to be within and without a tiny micro-culture, and caregivers are a perfect example. They may spend more time at a home that isn't theirs. A child may accidentally call them 'Mom.' And in a country where the violence of slavery was born from a twisted view of ownership, I think it's fascinating to explore how facets of slavery can still exist for childcare givers.
With this being your debut novel, and being a writer at the start of your career I was wondering if you could tell us about a book or author that inspired you to become an author?
There are so many authors and books I've been inspired by, especially as I've found my footing as a writer. A few that stand out are Megan Martin and her chapbook Nevers, Marisha Pessl's novel Special Topics In Calamity Physics, James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, and my favorite childcare giver in a novel is definitely Ida Rhew in Donna Tartt's The Little Friend.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?
I'm very excited to work on the film adaptation of Such A Fun Age. I've recently moved to Philadelphia and building community here is a big priority. And after book tour, novel number two.
Sometimes, when she was particularly broke, Emira convinced herself that if she had a real job, a nine‑to‑five position with benefits and decent pay, then the rest of her life would start to resemble adulthood as well. She’d do things like make her bed in the morning, and she’d learn to start liking coffee. She wouldn’t sit on the floor in her bedroom, discovering new music and creating playlists until three a.m., only to put herself to bed and think, Why do you do this to yourself? She’d try out a new dating app, and she’d have more interesting interests to write about: activities other than hanging out with Zara, watching old music videos, painting her nails, and eating the same dinner at least four nights a week (a Crock-Pot meal consisting of shredded chicken, salsa, and cheese). If Emira had a real job, she’d look at her wardrobe full of clothes from Strawberry and Forever 21 and decide it was past time for an upgrade.
Emira constantly tried to convince herself that she could find another child, a little girl with nice parents who needed her full time. They’d keep her on the books and she could say she paid taxes. They’d take her on vacations and consider her part of the family. But when Emira saw other children, anyone who wasn’t Briar Chamberlain, she felt viscerally disgusted. They had nothing interesting to say, their eyes had dead, creepy stares, and they were modest in a way that seemed weirdly rehearsed (Emira often watched Briar approach other toddlers on swings and slides, and they’d turn away from her, saying, “No, I’m shy”). Other children were easy audiences who loved receiving stickers and hand stamps, whereas Briar was always at the edge of a tiny existential crisis.
Underneath her constant chatter, Briar was messy and panicky and thoughtful, constantly struggling with demons of propriety. She liked things that had mint smells. She didn’t like loud noises. And she didn’t consider hugging a legitimate form of affection unless she could lay her ear against a welcoming shoulder. Most of their eve‑ nings ended with Emira paging through a magazine while Briar played in the bathtub. Briar sat with her toes in her hands, her face a civil war of emotions, singing songs and trying to whistle. She’d have private conversations with herself, and Emira often heard her explain to the voices in her head, “No, Mira is my friend. She’s my special friend.” Emira knew she had to find a new job.
Alix also found herself reorganizing her lifestyle around Emira, despite the fact that she didn’t have an explicit reason to. If Alix went shopping, she took the tags off clothes and other items immediately so Emira couldn’t see how much she’d spent, even though Emira wasn’t the type to show interest or ask. Alix no longer felt comfort‑ able leaving out certain books or magazines, because she feared Emira eyeing her Marie Kondo book and subsequently thinking, Wow, how privileged are you that you need to buy a hardcover book that tells you how to get rid of all your other expensive shit. Sometimes, Alix found herself pretending - in front of Emira - that she was about to eat leftovers for dinner. In reality, she’d be thinking to herself, Just order the sushi. Just text Peter and ask him what he wants. What point are you trying to prove by eating leftovers? But still, she’d wait till Emira closed the door behind her to go to her computer, ask Peter if he wanted the usual, and place her order via Seamless.
In the beginning, Alix would search Emira’s name on the Internet and Instagram, to see if she’d finally gotten an account (she’d convinced herself that this was a safety precaution concerning her children), but now Alix had taken to looking at her own Instagram account while imagining she was Emira and viewing it with fresh eyes. She’d slowly scroll through her own feed, and guess which pic‑ tures Emira would click on. Emira never hinted that she felt this way, because why would she, but Alix often felt that Emira saw her as a textbook rich white person, much in the same way that Alix saw many of the annoying Upper East Side moms that she and her girl‑ friends had always tried to avoid. But if Emira would only take a deeper look, if she gave Alix a chance, Alix knew that she would begin to think otherwise.
Alix fantasized about Emira discovering things about her that shaped what Alix saw as the truest version of herself. Like the fact that one of Alix’s closest friends was also black. That Alix’s new and favorite shoes were from Payless, and only cost eighteen dollars. That Alix had read everything that Toni Morrison had ever written. And that out of her group of friends, Alix and Peter actually had the smallest salaries, and that Tamra was the one who always flew first class. Alix often and unsuccessfully tried to drop these bits of information, but tomorrow, if things went Alix’s way, Emira could see all this in person.
Kiley Reid is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was awarded the Truman Capote Fellowship. Before becoming a writer, she worked as a babysitter for six years.