Grand Union: Stories, Zadie Smith 2019

I wanted to really like this book because, though I’ve not read any of Smith’s novels, I love her essays and thought she was brilliant when I heard her speak several years ago.  But, I just didn’t like Grand Union. There were some brilliant moments because Smith can put words and sentences together with the best of them, but the collection just didn’t work for me. First of all, there were too many genres—-dystopian future, science fiction, stream of consciousness, and post-modern mishmash—-and they were intermixed so I never got into a comfortable reading rhythm.  Second, too many of these stories were too far out for me, not Smith’s problem but certainly mine as, once again, I couldn’t find a comfortable niche for my reading.  Finally, I just couldn’t get into the stories, except for one beautiful tale of an ex-cop who got hooked on drugs and was caught stealing.  His conversations with his son, his wife who is leaving him after 30+ years, his advocate at a community library where he had worked, are heart-breaking and beautifully rendered.  Had this been the only story, I would have loved the book, but it’s buried among too many others which I struggled with.  Rebecca Makkai, whose book The Great Believers I reviewed last month, wrote of Grand Union in the New York Times Book Review:  the stories are ‘surreal, non-linear, essayistic, pointilist”, and I’m just not a non-linear, surreal reader.  Perhaps I’ll turn to one of her heralded novels and find another Zadie Smith.

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