Clever, cruel, hilarious, heartbreaking, and at times simply ingenious, Thompson-Spires’s experimental collection poses a simple, yet obviously not-simple, question: what does it mean to be a black American in this day and age? ... Thompson-Spires’s metafictional satires, oriented around questions of blackness, join a particular tradition of African-American fiction, recalling the sardonic absurdism of Everett’s Erasure and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, among others ... Not all of Thompson-Spires’s stories are overtly satirical, and they become progressively more serious as the collection progresses, but a thread of outrageous, glaring self-awareness runs through the collection, granting even many of the more severe tales a tone of dark comedy ... Thompson-Spires, thankfully, depicts a wide range of people, not seeking either overwhelmingly positive or negative images of a race but capturing diversity — reality — in much of its multifarious beauty and terror ... The real heads, of course, as this brilliant collection of word paintings displays, can be on anybody’s bodies.
The stories can be heavy in mood but the prose cackles with puckering humor and a heart-centered engagement in the idiosyncratic pulses of consciousness and feeling ... The experience of reading this collection overlaps with the act of TV channel surfing: we arrive in the middle of, must get acclimated and settled in before an abrupt change to something new. The dialogue is bubbly and sardonic, full of sly twists and dramatic reveals ... Thompson-Spires’s collection brings to mind the work of Kathleen Collins, Danzy Senna, and Renee Simms. Their writing shares a tactile reverence for the emotional, spiritual, and psychic experiences of precocious black woman. They also contain uproarious one-liners, a fearless dive into the core of the moment (attended by an ironic sense of what has come before), and a tender patience given to the unruly desires of flawed, eccentric characters.
Every once in a while a book comes around that fills a need — that communicates ideas so effectively and humanely its social value leaps off the page. Heads is such a book ... The author thoughtfully reveals contemporary racial dynamics by letting authenticity lead the way. She poses dilemmas, and we observe them play out as if she’s plucked scenes directly from our day-to-day ... Writing in versatile prose and with a penchant for naturalistic dialogue, the author calls to mind writers like Junot Díaz and Tayari Jones in the way she weaves timeless human conflict into a quietly political tapestry. Well-observed as they are, some of these entries could use a little more meat on the bones.
[Toni] Morrison said she wanted to write without explaining things to white readers, that she wanted to write without apology, that she was writing to and for an African-American audience. Thompson-Spires continues that effort in this collection ... They’re the kind of stories where every object, every allusion, and every reference take on secondary and tertiary importance. My brain feels like a jostled seltzer can waiting to be cracked open ... Some of the satirical pieces seem almost too obvious at first and their targets too easy. Yet they withstand dissection and questioning. They thrive under repeated analysis such that even the few stories I’d dismissed at first grow in possibility the more I probe ... these stories never feel didactic, never feel that their sole purpose is to make broad statements about what it means to be black in America today even though they are also doing emphatically that. It’s the mode of delivery, the forms of the stories, the use of satire and humor, the meta-fictional qualities, the tone and style chosen by the author that layer the larger view over the unique nature of each story’s characters.
Her tales focus on snobbish characters whose parents’ wealth has made them 'somehow unfit for black people' ... Thompson-Spires examines the black upper middle class who find themselves often isolated in historically 'white spaces' such as Ivy League colleges. She portrays the emotional challenge to their mental health that is the downside of privilege ... These coolly ironic and grimly funny tales brim with snap and verve, and this is a debut collection of daring and aplomb.
Thompson-Spires occasionally breaks the wall between the narrator and the audience in a way that’s unexpected and effective, and she uses perfectly timed asides and parentheticals to underline a theme or deliver a joke. With a well-tuned ear for the cadence of comedy and dialogue, Thompson-Spires uses her characters to illustrate what real conversations about identity can be—sometimes awkward, occasionally hilarious, but never simple.
A bold new voice, at once insolently sardonic and incisively compassionate, asserts itself amid a surging wave of young African-American fiction writers ... In an era when writers of color are broadening the space in which class and culture as well as race are examined, Thompson-Spires’ auspicious beginnings auger a bright future in which she could set new standards for the short story.
The aim of Heads of the Colored People seems to be to carve out space for fuller, more inclusive portraits of black interiority and experience. Though the prose can feel unpolished at times, the characters’ observations are delivered with clarity and precision; their responses to tragic situations are often filled with humor. Elsewhere in the collection, race is treated incidentally, which compels the reader to wonder what a literary landscape would look like if this were the norm.
Thompson-Spires eschews the easy or sentimental, and there is a satirist in her that lends the stories a dark, funny edge ... Though the characters sometimes feel one-note, Thompson-Spires proves herself a trenchant humorist with an eye for social nuance.