Twenty years ago, Tom Wolfe created a bright naif named Charlotte Simmons and followed her to college, where they both discovered that students were having sex. In sweaty prose straining with Wolfeian flourishes, the libidinous mechanics of “I Am Charlotte Simmons” read like the soft-porn edition of a physics textbook. The novel was presented as a sociological exposé, but non-climactic aspects of college life were largely eclipsed. After finishing it, I had to wear corrective glasses for several weeks to recover from excessive eye-rolling.

Kiley Reid, the author of the 2019 hit “Such a Fun Age,” is not so enamored with or shocked by the lusty antics of college kids. Perhaps because she’s younger or maybe because she observes more closely, she seems to know that the lives of young women are complicated in all kinds of messy ways that have nothing to do with what’s happening – or not happening – between the sheets.

Reid’s smart new novel, “Come and Get It,” takes place in 2017 in a dorm at the University of Arkansas. At the opening, we meet a visiting professor named Agatha Paul who writes about how people conduct family events such as funerals and birthdays. She’s come to the dorm to ask three female students questions for her new work of cultural criticism on weddings.

“There are no right answers,” Agatha assures the nervous students. “You’re all big wedding fans, yes?”

“That’s like, all we do,” says Jenna, a 19-year-old exercise science major from Waco, Texas. “We just like … We watch a lot of the highlight videos. Or we send each other things we find on Instagram or whatever.”

Another student tells Agatha, “You dress how I want to dress when I’m older.”


Their conversation proceeds from there like the excited wanderings of noisy ducks. The students – “Jenna: tall. Casey: southern. Tyler: mean” – offer their own casually outrageous comments on fashion, race and family expectations, a tangled ball of social attitudes and mores batted about with just the gentlest encouragement from Agatha.

But the subject at the root of this discussion is money: How much should a wedding cost? Who should pay? Not surprisingly, the students’ presumptions depend a lot on how wealthy their families are.

“My dad is an orthodontist,” Jenna explains. “Me and my brothers get our allowance from his payroll. Even though we don’t do anything, obviously. But that’s how I save for things. So I can be more independent later. He made it so it’s like a practice paycheck.”

A practice paycheck?

Of course, there’s sex in this story, too – how could there not be? But it’s noteworthy that the real complications and the most intimate details involve financial figures rather than physical ones. Fans of “Such a Fun Age” will see a similar concern here with the way unequal economic positions create clashing sets of values.

But “Come and Get It” explores that theme with even greater complexity. This is a novel that gets down and dirty with the budget. The most explicit exposures involve who has “fun money” and who doesn’t, who thinks $20 is a serious commitment and who can toss it off like a light kiss, who has the fiscal stamina to maintain a mortgage and who is amazed at the thought of such regular income. For students working to keep body and soul together, life is a series of relentless calculations; for those with an endless supply of cash, the wealth that elevates their lives and informs their sense of what’s possible feels both natural and invisible.


Beginning with an interview of these young women could easily have felt like the laziest kind of exposition, but in Reid’s hands it serves as a brilliant demonstration of her own approach as a novelist: Listen.

While Agatha records these conversations, she realizes two things: “The first was that she didn’t really care about weddings, not enough to write a book about them. The second was that she was completely enraptured by these young women, their relationship to money. … She didn’t want to be friends with them, but she liked listening to them.”

I guarantee you’ll feel exactly the same way.

The key is Reid’s exquisitely calibrated tone, which slips tantalizingly between sympathy and satire. She’s so good at capturing both the syrupy support and catty criticism these young women swap, and yet she also demonstrates a profound understanding of their fears and anxieties. Not to mention she gathers accents and verbal quirks like she’s picking delicate fruit. It soon becomes obvious that Reid is a much more astute cultural critic than Professor Agatha Paul.

Which brings us to the moral center of “Come and Get It.” Agatha’s unofficial research assistant is a 24-year-old African American student named Millie. Aside from her classes, Millie’s real job is working as a resident assistant in the dorm, and she’s good at it. She cares about her duties, and she needs the money, even if the young women under her watch sometimes treat her like a servant. (They hate to say it, but “Millie can be … a little ghetto.”)

When Agatha reaches out to Millie for help setting up interviews, she’s happy to oblige this dazzlingly sophisticated professor. And later, when they grow closer, Millie gives Agatha a secret perch from which she can observe and record students without their knowledge. Millie has no sense that this is essentially unethical; Agatha is too expedient to care.

The tension in “Come and Get It” builds slowly. For a while, Reid moves around these characters with all the apparent direction of a late-night study break: Roommates argue about dirty dishes left in the sink; students compete over Halloween decorations; gossips complain that other gossips are gossiping about them.

But if these incidents feel momentarily unrelated and inconsequential, you won’t have to wait long. You’re in the presence of a master plotter who’s engineering a spectacular intersection of class, racism, academic politics and journalistic ethics. Reid spots all the grains of irritation and deceit that get caught in the machinery of social life until the whole contraption suddenly lurches to a calamitous halt.

Come and get it, indeed!

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