Books

Come and Get It by Kiley Reid review – the alienation of campus life

The US novelist's second is a juicy campus drama charged with tensions

Kiley Reid’s absolute gem of a first novel, Such a Fun Age, was a bitingly satirical take on performative allyship, the peculiar dynamic of nannying and everyday racism.

Come and Get It is a somewhat gentler, more pondering read – but it’s equally full of deliciously fallible characters and their shenanigans. Here, Reid also focuses on transactional relationships, if mediated through the financial anxieties of American college students in Arkansas, in all of 2017’s mundane glory.

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The plot flips between a professor, Agatha, conducting research among the student body for an upcoming book, and Millie, the resident adviser recruited to secure her juicy interviews. The undergraduates depicted here are gross little nuggets. Dorms filled with dirty dishes, they behave in ghastly ways, obsessing over humdrum outfits, slyly excluding those deemed unworthy.

Reid wittily conjures the alienation and passivity of campus life; of students trying to figure shit out. When pandemonium eventually ensues out of various antics the distinctions between privileged and struggling undergrads are laid bare – from the infantilised kids subsiding on parental funds to those drudging away in low-paid jobs.

Reid brilliantly dissects the impact of financial and power imbalances in queer, interracial relationships; how white guilt can inflect all interactions, romantic or professional. Cash becomes a feeble apology, used by professors and students alike to curtail responsibility. Reid deals beautifully with her characters’ longing for a stable future, despite the costs.

Annie Hayter is a writer and poet.

Come and Get It by Kiley Reid is out now (Bloomsbury, £16.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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