"A dazzling collection of short fiction, more than half of which have never been published before, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and Swing Time Zadie Smith has established herself as one of the most iconic, critically-respected, and popular writers of her generation. In her first short story collection, she combines her power of observation and inimitable voice to mine the fraught and complex experience of life in the modern world. With ten extraordinary new stories complemented by a selection of her most lauded pieces for The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Granta, GRAND UNION explores a wide range of subjects, from first loves to cultural despair, as well as the desire to be the subject of your own experience. In captivating prose, she contends with race, class, relationships, and gender roles in a world that feels increasingly divided. Nothing is off limits, and everything--when captured by Smith's brilliant gaze--feels fresh and relevant. Perfectly paced, and utterly original, GRAND UNION highlights the wonders Zadie Smith can do"--
My reading of Zadie Smith's work seems to fall into two categories: really loved ("White Teeth", "Swing Time") and can't get into at all ("The Autograph Man" and, unfortunately, this short story selection). I struggled with the shifts in perspective within individual stories and found myself mildly repelled, rather than drawn in, by most of those I attempted.
Not for me.
Perhaps the most famous story from this collection is the oft-reproduced, “Escape From New York,” in which Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brandon flee New York City together by car in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. It’s such an outlandish premiss as to almost partake of the zany. There are other near-zany stories, such as “Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets.” Some, such as, “Parents’ Morning Epiphany,” are not stories, per se, but would not look out of place on McSweeny’s Internet Tendency. Some feel like formal narrative experiments, which perhaps like scientific experiments are considered successful whether they confirm or disconfirm an hypothesis.
So, not a lot here to warm to. Although one might nod one’s head in appreciation at the inspiration and (sometimes) the execution. But I couldn’t help thinking, often, that I’d rather read one of Zadie Smith’s fine essays or finer novels.
And so, only gently recommended.
“In a matriarchy, you’d hear women boasting to their mates: ‘I subsumed him in my anus. I really made his penis disappear. I just stole it away and hid it deep inside myself until he didn’t even exist.’ ”
It's all in the middle of a story that is obviously written by a person who didn't exploit the material for the sake of igniting shock and awe; in other words, Smith is far away from Bret Easton Ellis and his ilk.
My son asked me if the young man was “sick in the head” which is our downtown euphemism for batshit crazy, but my daughter 01 who is very, very savvy said, “No way—look at his clothes!” I thought that was an interesting answer. It meant she was becoming an American. It meant she now refused to believe rich people can be batshit crazy.
Some of the conversations between Americans and Jamaicans were good to read. The lack of obvious plot felt fresh and lovely. On the other hand, I'm left with a feeling that I breezed through the stories. They were easily read, for sure, but I won't remember many of them, only the sentiment that this collection left me with. It's a good feeling and I will read Smith again.