Could Adjei-Brenyah push a story past its weird 'what if' premise to sustain such a singular blend of wit and fury in a longer format? ... Chain-Gang All-Stars answers that question with a searing affirmation. It’s a devastating indictment of our penal system and our attendant enthusiasm for violence ... Adjei-Brenyah’s book presents a dystopian vision so upsetting and illuminating that it should permanently shift our understanding of who we are and what we’re capable of doing ... Adjei-Brenyah pushes the blade of his satire hard against the capitalist system that’s transformed 19th-century slavery into a modern-day profit center.
This is one queasy testament to Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s talent: You cannot applaud his debut novel, Chain-Gang All-Stars, without getting blood on your hands. To enjoy the action is to share in the guilt of the bloodthirsty fans sitting ringside at the live-broadcast death matches between prison inmates. Adjei-Brenyah is so good at writing fight scenes that our moral disgust never definitively stamps out the primitive thrill of reading them ... This is also why his book works. It is an act of protest, but it does not straightforwardly preach ... This book is not shy with its allegories ... Adjei-Brenyah...bends the lurid into the lyrical — pretty words about hideous deeds. Some of his best fight sentences sound as if Joe Rogan had fallen into a trance and assumed the diction and rhythms of Toni Morrison. If you recoil at that unholy fusion, that’s kind of the point; and the author keeps pulling off this shock, page after page. Adjei-Brenyah has a fine intuition, an almost spatial sense for what we need to see and what we don’t ... The novel is a thorough display of authorial control; Adjei-Brenyah only ever loses his handle on the pace and tone in a few meandering dialogues ... A writer who was up to the ideological but not the emotional task of such a novel might have settled for thinner characters. But Adjei-Brenyah, flitting from perspective to perspective in brisk chapters, assumes all of them easily and fills the characters’ inner lives to the brim, especially those of the incarcerated.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah sets his ferocious debut novel in one of the most inherently dystopian institutions ever conceived — the American penal system. With ruthless dexterity, he erases that comforting border between who we are and, if unchecked, what we might become. And the future is now ... Because Adjei-Brenyah skews so close to the atrocities we know, the implausible melts into the unnerving, yet possible ... With Chain Gang All-Stars he lets us think we’re reading a satire, but soon reveals a mirror of our dystopian days that lie not too far away.