Kiley Reid emerged on the literary scene at the end of 2019, when her debut novel Such a Fun Age released in a crescendo of buzz. The story of a Black babysitter accused of kidnapping her white charge, Such a Fun Age was a breezy, effortlessly compelling read, a juicy comedy of manners that also tackled tricky issues of race and class. It was a Reese’s Book Club pick, and Lena Waithe’s production company bought the film and TV rights. Now, Reid has released her second novel, Come and Get It.
Come and Get It channels the easy charm of Such a Fun Age, but this is a darker, more ambitious project. It aims to withhold easy satisfactions, to frustrate, to condemn. It’s only partially successful.
As in Such a Fun Age, the central relationship of Come and Get It is one between a wealthy middle-aged white woman and a young Black woman she is paying for a service. Here, the white woman is Agatha, a journalist with a chic capsule wardrobe and a protective attachment to her seven-piece Wüsthof knife set. The Black woman is 24-year-old Millie, a college RA desperately hoarding money so she can afford to put a down payment on a house as soon as she graduates.
Agatha and Millie meet when Agatha moves to the small Southern college town of Fayetteville, where Millie goes to school, to research her latest book. It starts as a project on how young Southern women think about weddings, but after Agatha develops a fascination with a clique of wealthy girls talking about their “fun money” and their “practice paychecks,” she redirects her book into an account on how Southern college women think about money.
Agatha first connects with Millie to facilitate interviews with her residents. But after Millie, nursing a crush on Agatha, offers to help her discreetly listen in on dorm life conversations, their relationship takes a turn. Soon, Agatha is spending her nights holed up in Millie’s dorm room, ear to the wall.
“If the situation was at all inappropriate,” Agatha notes defensively, “Millie showed no signs of thinking so.” She gives Millie $40 for every eavesdropping session.
It’s the money that’s the sticking point here, even more so than Agatha’s age and power relative to Millie’s lack of same, even more so than their covert listening. By giving Millie cash, Agatha commodifies their relationship, and Millie, mindful of her homeowning goal, allows it to be commodified.
They aren’t alone. This is a dark book where money shapes everything, even the most intimate of relationships. It is love and comfort and savior and corrupter all at once.
Yet Reid seems to be focusing so strongly on the thematic play of money and power across this book that her plotting has become a little clumsy. Agatha and Millie’s eavesdropping scheme is so clearly bound for doom from the start that it is difficult to suspend your disbelief long enough to imagine that either of these allegedly smart and well-meaning women would think it was a good idea. I spent most of the book convinced I had somehow missed a misunderstanding that made the plan make sense to one of them initially, especially since the book is crammed to capacity with different characters and it would be easy to miss something. I hadn’t.
That Agatha and Millie would make such a decision feels especially jarring because one of Reid’s strengths is the merciless realism of her style. Reid has a knack for the rhythms of spoken dialogue, her characters’ sentences all punctuated precisely to reveal the secret insecurities guiding their uptalk, the nervousness that makes them rush their words together.
Still, there are times when Reid leans so heavily on her strengths that they start to seem like crutches. Reid’s ear for dialogue is impeccable, but over time the plethora of one-word Ohmygods becomes wearying, and the phonetically spelled Southern accents (“Ohmahgoodness”) grating.
You get a similar effect with Reid’s fondness for summing up her characters in a single telling detail. One of Agatha’s subjects is “the type of person Agatha could picture holding her phone for the entire duration of a painfully slow, high-resistance elliptical ride.” Millie’s mom is the kind of person who eschews makeup, except for “blush, tinted Chapstick, and a tasseled pashmina” at celebratory dinners.
The first few times Reid does this kind of one-sentence character study, you are delighted with her cleverness. By the time she describes one woman as having “the body of a woman who was a gymnast as a child” and another as looking “like a backpack,” however, her one-liners have started to feel so specific as to become meaningless.
The big problem with Come and Get It is the opposite as the problem plaguing its sentences: it is too meaningful. Every event in this novel is so freighted with symbolic weight about the bigger story of American neoliberalism that it loses the specificity that would make it truly compelling.
Reid’s precise, realistic style kept me happily speeding through this novel to its finish, and its visceral ambition and thematic scope has kept me thinking about it in the days afterward. Still, despite Reid’s talent and ability, her characters never quite came alive for me.