I wrote a long analysis of the delightful, sadly forgotten Going Somewhere on my blog Queer Modernisms, which can be found here.
An excerpt: "Max EwingI wrote a long analysis of the delightful, sadly forgotten Going Somewhere on my blog Queer Modernisms, which can be found here.
An excerpt: "Max Ewing’s effervescent Going Somewhere, as fizzy as the champagne that had been newly (re)legalized the year of its publication, is primarily remembered today as one of a handful of novels published in the publication industry’s efforts to capitalize on the “Pansy Craze” of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The placement of Ewing’s text within this category can considered something of a historical coincidence, however, as the text deals directly with queer subject matter only in several brief, ultimately fleeting passages, something in marked contrast to other “Pansy Craze” novels, almost all which uniformly foreground queer characters and/or experiences.
Rather, in style, content, and tone, the novel is much more in line with the type of breezy high-society romps that Carl Van Vechten specialized in throughout the 1920’s. Van Vechten’s novels are themselves endlessly queer affairs, of course, though more in regards to sensibility and milieu than in regards to any type of sustained reference or focus on queer individuals or behaviors. Going Somewhere employs a similar approach, which is no surprise since Van Vechten was Ewing’s mentor and close friend."
To my mind the allusion of the title—to the beloved Astaire/Rogers RKO musical from 1936—is much more than a resonant reference to the protagonist’s lTo my mind the allusion of the title—to the beloved Astaire/Rogers RKO musical from 1936—is much more than a resonant reference to the protagonist’s lifelong passion for the classic Hollywood movies, but actually signals the overall structure and spirit of the book: this a novel of movement and rhythm and not precision, of giddy expansiveness and not meticulousness.
And as anybody who watches and loves musicals know, imperfection is just part and parcel of the form: that single bummer song in a score, one routine that just doesn’t quite come off, a narratively jarring pretext for a dance number, retrogressive attitudes and social behaviors that mar technically flawless scenes. Smith’s Swing Time functioned very similarly for me: some of the storylines riveted me, others made me long for more judicious editing. Characters I wanted to get to know better would disappear off of stage right and cede the stage to less compelling ones. But that is kind of the beauty of the entire enterprise: this is a big, messy, sprawling novel full of ideas and subplots and individual moments of sparkling radiance—but sometimes one has to accept some of the rote stuff needed to string them all together. And my god, those moments when everything comes together: just magical. And I found more than enough of them to keep me reading through some 450+ pages.
Perhaps I’m coming off too much as an apologist—and I fully admit to being a Zadie Smith fanboy—but I’m also instinctually sympathetic to what I sense is the overall project. Like many great writers before her Smith has opted to hone a more rigorous analytic style for literary and cultural criticism (see her excellent collection Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays) while fiction continues to serve as a realm for experimentation. No, Swing Time is not a masterpiece, but it feels quite obvious to me that Smith is moving toward one—like the dancers she celebrates through the novel Smith is feeling out prose rhythms, stretching stylistic muscle, undergoing the hard work necessary to scale the dizzying heights of the extraordinary (one need only recall, say, the multi-volume process implied between the raw talent of Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out and the indisputable mastery of Mrs. Dalloway and after; I suspect Smith is on a similar trajectory).
And I get it—not everyone particularly wants to see what goes on behind the curtains and between the acts. Fair enough. But I certainly wouldn’t want to miss it myself.
“She measured time in pages. Half an hour, to her, meant ten pages read, or fourteen, depending on the size of the type, and when you think of time in this way there isn’t time left for anything else…” ...more