Swing Time (Smith)

Zadie Smith is on my hardback list. There aren’t many on it, but when one of those authors comes out with a new book, I buy it in hardback, often on the first day, and tend to finish it quickly. Sometimes, I wonder why I don’t savor it. After all, the sooner I finish it, the longer the wait until the next book. But I can’t. When it comes to certain authors, I absolutely fail the marshmallow test.

And this is another superb effort from Smith. I marvel at her ability to work both large and small. By that, I mean, she can invest an apparently small moment or minor character with a remarkable degree of nuance and importance. She can evoke both an awkward conversation and a monumental scene with such precision that the reader is immediately and eagerly swept up into the present tense of the world Smith has created here.

And her motif here – that of dance – dance lessons, dances watched, dance movies, the appropriation of dance – proves a powerful entry point into Smith’s exploration of the intricacies of race. There are no answers here. Nor are there recommendations. Instead, there is the relentless reminder of how race inhabits so much in our lives, from the tennis player we support to the music we listen to.

And there is nothing simple here. Though Aimee may be an Angela Jolie-Madonna send-up, that doesn’t make her wrong or evil. Like Tracey and our nameless protagonist, she grows. She has good intentions, faces the challenges of day-to-day existence and tries to come out the other side. But even Aimee, for example, can’t stay young forever. It’s not new to say that people are complicated and that we complicate things every way we can. But there is hope here, a kind of resilience, powerfully evoked by the book’s final image which, like the rest of the novel, will stay with me for a long, long time. At least until Smith’s next book comes out. Which can’t be soon enough for me.

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One Reply to “Swing Time (Smith)”

  1. Wonderful, succinct review. I particularly like you evoking Smith’s “ability to work large or small.” Exactly. The book is long but not a word is wasted. Bravo to both Charles and Zadie Smith.

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