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.
Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time, as well as two collections of essays, Changing My Mind and Feel Free. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. White Teeth won multiple literary awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award. On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Orange Prize for Fiction, and NW was shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. Zadie Smith is currently a tenured professor of fiction at New York University and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
since you are reading this, it's likely you haven't seen projects 1 through 7 (because you surely would have unfollowed me by now), so here's the deal: i have decided to become a genius.
to accomplish this, i'm going to work my way through the collected stories of various authors, reading + reviewing 1 story every day until i get bored / lose every single follower / am struck down by a vengeful deity.
i haven't read anything by Zadie Smith, so when i found a pristine (signed!) copy of this in a Goodwill for like $1 it seemed too good to be true. and clearly it was, since it has one of the lowest average ratings i've ever seen.
DAY 1: THE DIALECTIC i actively hated the way the dialogue was written in this story in a way that i have never experienced, so. that's not boding well. although all my genius projects thus far have resulted in at least positive-adjacent ratings, which is very off brand for me. might be fun, if torturous, to fix that. i am very sorry to say that this is something i might have been able to write in the seventh grade, if i were feeling particularly dark and trying too hard. rating: 1.5
DAY 2: SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION the protagonist of this story is a college student whose values are law and order and meritocracy to whom the idea of a society that is neither matriarchal nor patriarchal is "disgusting," so needless to say i hate her profoundly. the writing of this wasn't as personally offensive to me as the first one, but it did have the same feeling of this-has-been-done-before-and-was-kind-of-pointless-the-first-time. rating: 2
DAY 3: THE LAZY RIVER fun fact: did you know 2017 was a bad year? if you already did, this story is not going to have much of note to tell you. rating: 2.5
DAY 4: WORDS AND MUSIC immediately i am expecting this to be about a Drew Barrymore / Hugh Grant vehicle i haven't seen. the fun part of that is that because i haven't seen it, i can pretend that it is no matter what. this felt intentionally confusing and disjointed in a trying-too-hard way, but for all the unconnected nonsense it's the one i like best so far. rating: 3
DAY 5: JUST RIGHT i can't even put into words, i think, how much i hated this one - beyond that it has that This Is My First Ever Short Story energy of i will put all my time into descriptions and style and not think about how people actually talk to each other or move through the world or exist in general and that will do the trick just fine. rating: 1
DAY 6: PARENTS' MORNING EPIPHANY no human being in global history has ever been sadder or more ill-equipped to deal with sadness than i am, on this momentous day. this is important information to know because if i was capable of producing passionate emotion, i might have thought this was pretentious, but i am a shell of a person and therefore just think it's kinda nice. rating: 3.5
DAY 7: DOWNTOWN brett kavanaugh? i haven't heard that name in years... just kidding. i do stay semi-updated on the decisions of the highest court in the land that also happens to be just under 25% sex criminal. anyway. the main point of this is about Privilege, and while it doesn't have anything particularly new to say or a particularly new way of saying it, i like the topic. rating: 3
DAY 8: MISS ADELE AMIDST THE CORSETS this one...i don't know. all over the place. rating: 3
DAY 9: MOOD since the book is, in a sense, asking - my current mood: bad. i don't like this and it makes me angry to pick it up. but i am stubborn so nevertheless we persist. i would probably like this more if i really thought about it, but i'm getting a headache so i'll do the thinking later. (note from the future: i decided not to think more about it for my personal well-being so middle of the road it is.) rating: 2.5
DAY 10: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK i missed a day yesterday, i think for the first time with this book so far, which is pretty miraculous when you consider both how low my overall well-being is and how little i'm enjoying this. so today (day 11) is a catch-up day. this story manages to do something truly incredible and vintage in that there is a character who NOT ONLY has a single personality trait, which is being fat, but it's also one of the only things the story manages to describe consistently. it sucks ass. it's disturbing and gross. i am hating this collection immensely. rating: 1
DAY 11: BIG WEEK caught up. hurray. double helping of this book, lucky me, et cetera. and both stories mention Twinkies - how very Americana. this is set in Boston, so it's populated with very Irish people with very Irish names, and Red Sox caps and Guinness and casual racism and Catholicism and pill-into-heroin addictions, so as you might guess i'm so overwhelmed by the creativity i could burst. i know i'm being mean but wow this is getting exhausting, folks. rating: 2
DAY 12: MEET THE PRESIDENT! the sad thing about the stories in this book that require more attention than others is that i don't care enough to give it to them. i liked the ending of this one, though. rating: 3
DAY 13: TWO MEN ARRIVE IN A VILLAGE i've started doing this earlier and earlier in my day in order to minimize the amount of time it's looming over me + my organized daily to-do list. if i had read this story earlier in this collection, at a time when i was young and optimistic and full of life and a certain generosity of spirit, i might have had the compassion it would take to read it analytically, and then maybe i would've really liked it. instead, i am exhausted. and mean. rating: 3
DAY 14: KELSO DECONSTRUCTED not going to lie, i thought this was going to be to That '70s Show what Law & Order: SVU was to Especially Heinous in Her Body & Other Parties. could be important to note that i've never really seen That '70s Show, so it's technically possible it is. conditions are deteriorating between me and this book, as i contemplate using eyelash wishes and 11:11s to beg the universe for shorter stories / to mercifully end my suffering. this story is supposedly set in 1959, but at one point our protagonist receives a prescription that is formatted like "an email from one author to another," so who the hell knows. rating: 2.5
DAY 15: BLOCKED the universe has heeded my suffering and given me a teeny one. as per the New Normal this was mostly in one ear and out the other with me, although i do find the idea of what is Real and what is Created interesting. this just wasn't an interesting way to look at it, in my opinion. obviously. because it's in this book, my arch enemy. rating: 3
DAY 16: THE CANKER skipped a day again. now that i'm finally so close to the wonderful, glorious end, my hubris is showing. the icarus of goodreads over here. except instead of my comeuppance being a brutal, painful death by burning, i have to read two stories from this in one day. which is far worse. this reminded me of a story from the NK Jemisin collection i read in project 5, but way worse. rating: 2
DAY 17: FOR THE KING i was automatically disposed to like this one more - because it's set in Paris, one of my favorite things for a story to be - but then for some reason we had to spend the whole great metaphor of the ending comparing a person with mental illness to an animal, and a child to be tolerated and condescended to. two more days and counting. rating: 2
DAY 18: NOW MORE THAN EVER now more than ever, i am skipping days left and right because this book is driving me to lose my absolute mind. well, this book alongside other things. i hate almost anything that mentions cancel culture immediately. it's like those two words kill a writer's ability to be unique and interesting (although that ability hasn't exactly been on showcase at any other point in this book, so why start now). rating: 1.5
DAY 19: GRAND UNION OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD IT'S THE TITULAR STORY. do you know what this means???? we're done! finally, thankfully finished! this story impacted me exactly zero, minus filling me with relief.
OVERALL i suppose it was only a matter of time, examining my track record, that one of these genius projects would go horrifically awry and you would all have to painfully observe in the way of witnessing a nightmarish traffic accident, but i didn't really consider it. eventually i'll try a zadie smith novel, because it seems no one liked this collection much - but years from now, decades even, when the name "grand union" only puts me in the mind of a historic train station or an oldies album i haven't heard of, rather than unrelenting suffering. for reasons of fairness. rating: 2
Some of you know that I have had an ongoing (literary) love affair with Zadie Smith. I was astonished at the genius of her novel NW, moved immensely by her novella The Embassy of Cambodia and reveled in and relished her book Swing Time. These were all five star reads for me and I continue to remember them and sway to them the way I would a favorite Sade album.
I put off reading this collection of short stories as I wondered how I would fare with so many ideas that Zadie has a tendency to throw her readers. I had no need to worry as this very unusual collection and disparate set of stories had much to offer me with varying degrees of admiration and love. First of all Zadie is in many ways on the border of Privileged and Other and can see both sides and beyond with clarity, humor and compassion. She never preaches but carefully cajoles the reader to take a broader look at the world, the self and others. I always feel like she is holding my hand and saying in various accent....com-on mun opin yo eyes ! And I do even though sometimes it is through my fingers.
Zadie I continue to love you and because of our long term love affair I hope that you don't mind that I gave a couple of your stories 3 stars (good with flaws) Flaws ? Yes dear Zadie a few flaws but from a loved one that adores you that should provide comfort that you are not completely on a pedestal. Most of these stories though are 4 to 5 stars and I continue to be enlightened by the Almighty Zadie....
Without further ado...here is a list of the stories...their ratings and a thought or feeling or two...
1. The Dialectic -4 stars- A sad little interlude between a single mum and her teenage daughter on a family vacation in Coastal Poland (yes Poland !)
2. Sentimental Education- 4.5 stars - A powerful and hilarious story of how female sexuality can also oppress and nullify !
3. The Lazy River -4.5 stars - A fab story of the emptiness of the British middle classes in its laziness, narrowness and complacency
4. Words and Music- 4 stars- a story of the lives of two African American sisters and their differences....interesting and haunting
5. Just Right -4 stars - A little white boy with his stutter and a little black girl and her chess and a mum who feels she knows best...
6. Parents' Morning Epiphany -3 stars...Super clever social commentary but not particularly moving or resonant
7. Miss Adele amidst the corsets -4 stars-A black drag queen has it out with the proprietor of a lingerie shop
8.Mood- 3 stars- Super witty but very empty and really not emotive at all
9. Escape from New York - 4 stars- A semi-surreal escape by 3 almost famous best friends during a television apocalypse....original and quite funny
10. Big Week....5 stars...favorite in bunch...An incredibly moving story of a gent who is desperately trying to make sense of a world that no longer values him and his struggle to express his sadnesses and what about his spouse?
11. Meet the President....5 stars...second fave....An incredible dystopian tale that I wish was a novel...move over Oryx and Crake
12. Two men arrive at a village...4 stars... The cruelty of men since time immemorial
13. Kelso Deconstructed...4.5 stars...A haunting re-enactment of the last day of life for Kelso in Notting Hill (based on a true historical event)
14. Blocked...3 stars....the ramblings of a stymied inventor....good but nothing special
15. The Canker....3 stars...a tale of a matriarchal society taken over by a maniacal male despot...this needs to be a much longer story...
16. For the King... 4.5 stars... A very Cusk-like vignette of a gay Chinese man and his best friend, a Jamaican straight woman who spend an evening in Paris discussing sexual politics, gender differences and gossip...
17. Now More than Ever...4 stars... A very funny and astute piece about the ridiculousness of academic discourse
18. Grand Union...3 stars... A short ditty on communing with a dead mum and cultural landscapes....
Zadie thank you for continuing to teach and amaze me !
Zadie Smith gives us a wide and disparate collection of short stories, some of which have been published previously. As is often the case with short story collections in my view, it is a mixed bag, some so slight as to be hardly worth bothering with, some rather opaque, others more engaging but too often frustrating as just as you have got into it, it all comes to a much too soon ending. Smith shifts from the past, present and future, encompassing a range of genres, with a variety of settings and styles. When she hits the mark, she writes with acute observational insights and provides a sharp and intelligent social and political commentary on our troubled, complex, and divided world, such as Brexit and Trump. She touches on race, gender, class, immigration, family, relationships, sex, technology and politics. I found this hard to rate, but opted for 4 stars as I reflected on the short stories, judging them to have sufficient remarkable and interesting content to be worth reading. However, I have to say I have a preference for her full length novels. Many thanks to Penguin UK for an ARC.
Grand Union: Stories was one of the most insufferable collections of short stories I've ever read. While I do think that Zadie Smith is a good writer I wonder whether she is one in actual practice...sadly I'm starting to think that she will never write something that I will be able to actually appreciate. Her stories present us with a murky blend of satire and wokeness, which strive to be thought-provoking and ambivalent 'hot takes' on present issues but, more often than not, seem closer to drafts for a creative writing workshop.
These short stories are so focused on critiquing a certain subject that they neglect all other components. To make a certain 'point' or to pass as 'shockingly' candid narratives, these stories resort to unfunny caricatures and explicit scenes (which are shocking for the sake of being shocking). Smith combines a mixture of topical or 'in' things such as Tumblr (there is a short story that pokes fun at it through a series of posts that seem as if taken directly by Tumblr itself...how does that qualify as satire?) that go at odds with the erudite references and elaborate speculations that punctuate these narratives. There were also many phrases that just struck me as unnecessarily contrived: such as “It was true. What the woman had said was true, in intention, but what the girl had said was true, too, in reality” and “For a fatherless family, The Dialectic as theirs now was, this collective aspect was the perfect camouflage. There were no individual people here”. In spite of their short length, these stories dragged. The first one, perhaps the shortest in the collection, was the least offensive one....the rest seemed to last past their 'punch line'. For example, a story focused on a certain type of British tourist (a Brexiteer group who goes to Spain to eat British food and float in a pool/river all day) is rather clumsily narrated (the 'we' and 'us' tried to make them into some sort of multi-conscious collective) and within a few lines resorts to repetition as a way of stressing their poor behaviour. A story that could have presented us with a woman's struggle to reconcile herself with her sexuality (in that she wants to dominate rather than submit or be equal to her partner) ends up being little more than a needlessly graphic tale(I don't mind explicit scenes if they have some sort of purpose/impact or if they are smoothly incorporated within the rest of the narrative) that seems to close to Fifty Shades of Grey for my comfort . Not only did it strike me as being crass just for the sake of being crass but it was also full of corny repetitions ( we get it, she wants to “nullify his flesh in hers”) This is one shallow collection of stories that seem to exude smugness (yet they are not as clever as they set themselves to be). There is no heart or depth within them, and the characters seem mere sketches that exist only to offer a certain, often idiotic, viewpoint (white, conservative, middle-class women are the worst, we get it). In these stories people suck, the world is terrible, and we should all have a laugh at the expenses of other people's interests or beliefs. You might be able to appreciate this one if you are a 'hardcore' Zadie Smith fan...but if you have are not too keen on her writing you might want to steer clear.
A last pearl of wisdom from Smith: “And that's all a year actually is—a series of months that jump four at a time”.
The short story as practiced by masters of the form can be a thing of rare beauty. A problem though is that the short story can also be a kind of dumping ground for all kinds of mental flotsam and jetsam. Probably more than half of the stories in this collection fall into that category. From the evidence of these stories there's a suggestion Zadie Smith is spending too much time in academia. There's often a pretentiousness (with an underlying intellectual insecurity?) which, to my mind, is luring her away from her true gifts as a writer. Zadie has a rare and brilliant talent for observation, like Katherine Mansfield. But Mansfield, an incredibly intelligent woman, rarely used a word in her stories a child wouldn't understand. Zadie, on the other hand, litters these scribblings with lecture hall jargon. To be honest I don't think she has any especial talent for the form of the short story. Some are simply like the doodles of a novelist who can't find a compelling premise for a new book. Others are sketches. There are a couple which remind one why one loves reading her so much. Another sad thing is she's become less British, more American and I don't think she writes nearly so well of America as she does of Britain. I'm still waiting for the truly great book Zadie Smith has it in her to write. This certainly isn't it.
A bundle of brief vignettes, that often tries to be cool or poignant, while lacking any internal consistency At times, I do wonder if there’s something slightly dishonest in this approach, that it turns the novel into a kind of parable or illustration of a precept instead of an honest narrative.
The bundle consists of a lot of small stories, even though that sometimes hardly seems to be the right term for them. In general I feel Grand Union: Stories would have gained strength through more focus and making the parts work together in the bundle to something more that the sum of parts. Also the quality in my opinion of the pieces varies a lot. Finally the zeitgeist bingo that the author seems to want to incorporate in the bundle feels often forced or superficial.
Dialectic - so overtly millenial in themes in 4 pages, with economic immigration, vegetarianism and commentary on tourism Sentimental Education - ...and the sense that this would all work better as anecdote than reality. Race, class and female sexuality on an university. Like a badly thought and fleshed out version of Normal People. Also didn’t get the flashforwards to being married and all. Lazy river - a play on how a south Spain all-inclusive can be a glum metaphor for late capitalism life. There is Brexit, immigrants and mass tourism and some dry fun. But in times of Corona I must say this story still felt rather dated. Words and music - A bit vague, zooming into an estranged sister and the power of music while making a kind of stroll through New York or Washington and going to a concert. Just Right - I liked this one, somehow the story of a Polish nerdy kid who is ashamed of his parents, while starting of a sexual relation with a classmate, has more worldbuilding in it than the earlier stories Parents’ Morning Epiphany - okay, this examination of a kids instruction to literature feels distinctly filler to me and fortunately was short Downtown - There is some commentary that foreshadows Black Lives Matter and humor of a Caribbean woman looking at her children growing up in New York: 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. But still feels very vignette like, without a plot or payoff Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets - She felt like some once-valuable piece of mahogany furniture, lightly dusted with cocaine. A hilarious story of a dragqueen going in a corset shop and bringing things to an explosive confrontation on (perceived?) homophobia and racism. Mood - so today I am yelling about. A very accurately infuriating impression of Tumblr (remember that?); as a millennial I feel that’s not something that needs to be kept in literature for the ages. Also for the zeitgeist bingocard: Trump, Lampedusa and excessive student loans. One redeeming thing was this next sentence that made me choke up with laughing: However much Tall bottoms are the most oppressed members of the gay community. Escape from New York- Bingo: Weinstein comes back in this one. Always love apocalyptic stories and this flight from New York by the superrich is sardonically hilarious as well. Big Week - Oke the middle class divorcee ex cop turned taxi driver with medical bills and an opioid addiction versus the Ugandan queer visiting architect. Its so in your face that Smith wants these characters to symbolize a contrast that it feels very engineered/constructed. And in the end the story has some heart, to be fair, but still. Meet the president! - VR obsessed near future corporate elite child meets the real world and the concept of his mortality. Margaret Atwood did it much better in Oryx and Crake but I have a soft spot for sci fi. Two men arrive in a village - A fragmented story of violence and rape descending on a village. Felt like a bare draft. Kelso Deconstructed - The last day of a carpenter, who goes about his life in London with his young wife unknowingly. There is a very brief extract from a mail from what appears to be Sally Rooney to Zadie Smith in the story. Because the narrator and reader are omniscient the emotional impact is rather limited, I don’t feel the racial violence and musings on narrative as being insincere mix well Blocked - a monologue of a disappointed and slightly depressed god. Bruce almighty vibes without the fun. The Canker - a kind of pastiche on high fantasy, which left me feeling convinced Zadie Smith should remain focussed on contemporary fiction For the King - Oke this one at the pay off, with the realization of other persons their life and how much of our modern day lives are technology aided escapes from others, was really well done in my view. Now more than ever - A satirical piece on cancel culture, the quest to collapse persons into consistency past and present and the predominance of youth and coolness. Grand Union - brief thoughts on motherhood and being descendant of maroons. Rather vague to be carrying the burden of title story.
*top 10 disappointing reads of 2019* *top 10 worst reads of 2019* Just not for me. I just cannot get along with tye writing style. Most of the short stories try to tell about broken families and racism and about relationships but it just couldn't hold my interest starting from the very first short story. Nah, not wasting my time on this. DNFed.
Not having any academic background in ‘creative writing’I’ve never really understood the injunction ‘show don’t tell’, but now I think maybe it’s communicating the same basic concept –that there are some ideas impossible to understand or accept as direct statements, but just marginally, fleetingly comprehensible in the form of stories. At times, I do wonder if there’s something slightly dishonest in this approach, that it turns the novel into a kind of parable or illustration of a precept instead of an honest narrative. From Kelso Deconstructed
In my review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) of Swing Time, the most recent of Zadie Smith’s five novels, all of which I’ve read, I commented that she is an excellent writer and important cultural commentator, but that increasingly her novels don’t seem the best way for me to explore her themes, preferring her essays. I also quoted her as saying in an interview:
"[Musicals] are a mixture of the sublime and the obviously awful — terrible plots, offensive routines. I don't know why I'm attracted to that mix of form. It's obviously much cooler and more sensible to be attracted to perfect form. But something about perfect form repels me. My novels are like that too — I know they should be slim and controlled, but instead they're this ragbag."
I was therefore intrigued with this, her first short story collection how she handled a more slim and controlled (and both words do apply to her stories here) form.
But I do tend to prefer short-stories, if published together in a book, to cohere in some way – repeated characters and motifs are particular favourites (as in another collections I read recently: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... or even stylistically linked (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). This felt more like a premature lifetimes greatest hits collection from someone who has only released 8, not entirely successful, singles in the last 5 years, and added another 12 recent songs to make an album.
The stories in the collection are very varied in style – at little too much so: I prefer to get my variety from reading lots of different books – and my reaction varied from enjoyment (although none approached mastery or did anything particularly new or radical) to distaste or incomprehension.
Sentimental Education was perhaps my favourite, in part as I identified with the setting (not named as such but clearly a Cambridge college). Told from the perspective of a student, Monica, it includes another resident of the college, Leon, not a student but rather a friend of one, Monica’s lover, and who has somehow blagged an overnight stay into permanent accommodation, unknown to the college authorities. Annoyed by Leon’s constant presence in her boyfriend’s room and consequent intrusion into their love life Monica hopes the bedders will report him or the other students but everyone else likes him:
Part of his appeal was that he offered a vision of college life free from the burden of study. All those fantasies from the prospectus, on which the students had been sold – images of young people floating downstream or talking philosophically in high grass – that life had come true only for Leon. From the stained-glass panopticon of the library, Monica would spot him down there, at his liberty: lying on the Backs blowing smoke into the face of a cow, or in a punt with a crowd of freshers and bottle of cava. Meanwhile she wrote and rewrote her thesis on eighteenth-century garden poetry. All Monica’s life was work.
But the story – like a number in the collection – suffers from being gratuitously sexually crude.
Another favourite was Meet the President!, set in a dystopian future – although actually personally as a reader it felt at times utopian. The global citizens of the world/nowhere have rebounded from their Trumpian and Brexit defeats and triumphed.
Young Bill Peek, a true global citizen, tells the hapless locals in a coastal town in Suffolk:
‘This’– he indicated Felixstowe, from the beach with its turd castings and broken piers, to the empty-shell buildings and useless flood walls, up to the hill where his father hoped to expect him –‘is nowhere. If you can’t move, you’re no one from nowhere. “Capital must flow.”’
Although his interlocutor senses he may not be a local:
‘From round here, are you? Or maybe a Norfolk one? He looks like a Norfolk one, Aggs, wouldn’t you say?’
Although another dystopian saga, The Canker, I found incomprehensible.
Two Men Arrive in a Village is a nicely drawn parable of the inevitable any time a country is invaded or suffers a revolution or civil war, the tone cleverly treading a thin line between satire of cliché, and horror at the endless repetition of looting, murder and rape (usually in that order).
After eating, and drinking – if it is a village in which alcohol is permitted – the two men will take a walk around, to see what is to be seen . This is the time of stealing. The two men will always steal things, though for some reason they do not like to use this word and, as they reach out for your watch or cigarettes or wallet or phone or daughter, the short one, in particular, will say solemn things like ‘Thank you for your gift’ or ‘We appreciate the sacrifice you are making for the cause’, though this will set the tall one laughing and thus ruin whatever dignified effect the short one was trying to achieve. At some point, as they move from home to home, taking whatever they please, a brave boy will leap out from behind his mother’s skirts and try to overpower the short, sly man.
At the other end of the spectrum, Downtown seemed to be trying too hard to portray an exaggerated New York:
The New York Public School Calendar does not recognize funks, personal, existential, artistic or otherwise. School starts on September 4th and that’s that. The only way to get out of it is to take an ordinary belt, tie it round your neck, loop it round a door handle and then sit suddenly upon the floor. Although this method likely won’t get your kid out of having to turn up on that first day, it will at least mean you don’t have to take them.
It was September 4th – I had to take them. In the line to get through the school gates – a momentous line, which snakes from Café Loup all the way down Sixth Avenue like a tapeworm of the Devil – a parent started talking to me about his family’s transformative summer break to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. It had taken three planes to get there, they’d gone to bed with monkeys and woken up with sloths and the whole trip had been utterly transformative: transformative to escape the American ‘situation’, transformative for him personally, and for his wife, and for the children, but especially for him. Transformative. I peered at this dude very closely. I hadn’t seen him since last September 4th but to my painterly eye he didn’t appear especially transformed. Seemed like much the same asshole.
On the sad, childless walk home, I heard a very old white lady outside Citarella exclaim loudly, into her phone: ‘But he’s not my friend, he’s my driver!’To which a tall boy in sequinned culottes with a Basquiat ’fro – who happened to be passing – replied: ‘Lady, you are GOALS.’My concern about both jungles and forests is that you can’t really imagine anything like that happening in them.
Kelso Reconstructed is a fictionalised re-telling of the true-life story of the murder of Kelso Cochrane in Notting Hill in 1959 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_...), but overly self-consciously metafictional:
They are engaged to be married, although they will never marry: by the time the next sentence arrives it will be Saturday 16 May 1959, the last day of Kelso’s life. One thing about the last day of our lives is we almost never know that it is the last day – from here stems ‘dramatic irony’– and no more did Kelso know it. His mind was full of the pain in his thumb and the heat in the room … Kelso, caught in the slipstream of life, without the hindsight of either reader or author, could think only of his own pain.
And also contains what seems to be an odd authorial nod to Sally Rooney when a young Irish nurse called Rooney hands Kelso a prescription that reads:
From: YoungIrishWriter@ gmail.com To: OlderEnglishWriter@ yahoo.com
Mood simply consists of a seemingly rather random collection of descriptions of moods for example:
Absurd Modern Mood ‘And the crazy thing is,’ said the Professor of the Philosophy of History to the Professor of the History of Philosophy, ‘how difficult an easy life is! I mean, imagine what a difficult life feels like!’ A nearby graduate, Zenobia, presently assembling a sly dinner out of Philosophy Department canapés – while simultaneously trying to disguise the look of actual hunger in her eyes – took a moment. Suddenly she was overcome by the sense that none of this was real. Not the canapés, not the professors, not the Philosophy Department, nor the whole city campus. (Zenobia has ninety-six thousand dollars in loans. She is studying Philosophy, period.)
Two stories published in the New Yorker were reviewed and discussed at the time at the Mookse and Gripes website, generally not that favourably.
And several stories rather passed me by altogether, including the title one - partly as they seemed to be essays whose points were overly disguised by turning them into stories.
Overall, not a collection that I could particularly recommend - one that made be hanker for the novels, however much they may be a "ragbag" they are at least a coherentish ragbag, and that if anything this experience further supported my view that Smith is at her best as an essayist. 2.5 stars
Few writers capture dialogue as beautifully as Zadie Smith -- and are such empathetic observers. I loved so many of the short stories in this collection: they're smart and moving and surprising, and the dialogue is as real as it gets.
I love Zadie Smith, I really really do. So I'll start with the good: There's loads of interesting ideas here.
Everything I read by Zadie Smith lately comes with Christian Lorentzen's question/comment ringing in my brain, "It’s worth asking whether it would have been possible for Smith to write White Teeth, with its cheekily named Islamic fundamentalist terror organization KEVIN, after 9/11. Probably not."
Lately her fiction doesn't blow my skirt up the way it once did, and I suspect that Lorentzen has touched on the reason. There was a certain So-What attitude to great Zadie Smith fiction, and a depth of Truth that went with it. Perhaps these things can only really belong to the very young or the very naive - neither of which suit really fits Smith anymore. I think essays or even nonfiction may be the way grown-up Zadie Smith expresses herself best to me.
I do like her experiments and willingness to "show her work" in some of these stories, though sometimes it feels like a great writer being careful. I know a little bit about singing, skiing and sex: none of these things can be done well if you're too careful whilst doing them (prepare before, but just let go during!) I feel like perhaps some of these stories are examples of what happens when a great writer takes pains to be understood and interesting and live up to her name all at once, rather than just writing.
Zadie Smith has gone to great lengths to tell us all to be unafraid to fail or be wrong. I feel like this book of stories could have used that very advice.
I remember reading Zadie Smith's NW and just not "getting it", even though I really wanted to. I have only heard great things about Zadie Smith and her writing. I figured I should take another swing at it and Grand Union seemed to be a great option because it is a collection of short stories. I love short stories because this is a chance for the author to really show their range, this was not the case with this book.
I did not like Grand Union , there, I said it! I really wanted to like it because it is freaking Zadie Smith! Majority of the stories were misses for me. Of the 19 stories I really liked 4 and I would rate those four max 3.5 stars and I am being generous. The collection did not feel cohesive, not that it needs to be, but it felt so very all over the place and random. A lot was happening and nothing was happening at the same time.
I just did not like this collection, and I really wish I did.
Zadie Smith does this thing where half her work is really character-driven and so fucking funny and the plot ties together in a clever way that make you go “OH!” and then she does this other thing where she tries to out-smart everyone and it's like I see what you are doing here, Zadie, but this isn't very easy or enjoyable to read, damn it, can't you do that other thing you do that I like more? On this precipice lies the main reason she is one of my favourite writers, so what can you do.
There were a few stories in this collection that fell into this first category (“Sentimental Education” and “Big Week”) and there were a few that fell into the latter (“Meet The President!” and “Just Right”). And then there was... this whole other category of stories that really just felt like Zadie Smith was the main character and could have been a personal essay but she made it a short story instead? I really liked those ones. They felt like she was reaching and trying to out-smart me but in a way that was cool and interesting and not in a way that was boring or trying too hard (shout out to “The Lazy River,” “Mood,” “Blocked,” and “For The King”).
An uneven Zadie Smith short story collection is still better than 80% of other books.
I'm still thinking about the line “I AM DEPRESSED.”
It has taken me a long time to catch up with this, Zadie Smith's first short story collection, and it is not an easy book to rate or review, because the stories are so varied in length, style and subject matter. Some of them are enjoyable, some a little hard to follow and some rather introspective and personal. It also seems rather odd to name a collection after one of its shortest stories.
Many of the stories are set in New York, but the most powerful is probably Kelso Deconstructed, which tells the true story of an Antiguan murdered in London in 1959.
Thank you @penguinpress for gifting me an early copy of Grand Union by Zadie Smith! Bringing together eleven brand new, never before seen stories and a few well-loved stories previously published in magazines & newspapers, Grand Union explores notions of time and place, identity and rebirth, legacies that haunt us and futures that rush to meet us. . I was surprised by the range of genres Smith presents here, as her narrative fiction usually explores themes such as family, immigration and community under what I’d class as literary fiction. Some of these forays into new genres impressed me more than others - Meet the President was a short sci-fi tale that just left me cold, whereas The Canker had me dying for Smith to produce a full-length fantasy novel - please! . In her novels, Smith’s characters are always so vibrant and alive, and she manages to achieve this same vitality in her short fiction - no mean feat. Kelso Deconstructed is a heartbreaking telling of the stabbing of an Antiguan immigrant by white youths in London in 1959, while Big Week takes us deep into the heart of a failed marriage, and Sentimental Education depicts a vivid relationship between three people at university. . But not all the stories revolve around nuanced characters - Lazy River (possibly my favourite story in the collection) is a meandering metaphor of mediocrity, critiquing current issues like social media and Brexit in Smith’s usual sharp and witty manner, while Two Men in a Village provides commentary on a sickening pattern of violence. . Overall, a solid collection with some more memorable than others, but a must for Smith fans! And I’ll be waiting on that fantasy novel...
I read the first and last (title) stories, and started on the second. Two out of three were kind of atrocious. As in, if they didn’t have the famous name attached I’m not sure they could have gotten published. In “The Dialectic” Smith attempts to cross Elena Ferrante with Jonathan Safran Foer for a thin tale of a mother and daughter arguing on a beach about the treatment of animals. Main problem: no one speaks like the daughter speaks here, no matter her age or upbringing (“I dislike this place”). The title story, about mothers and daughters in a diverse area of London, is fine, but nothing special. And then the first five pages of “Sentimental Education” were sexually explicit just for the sake of it and too reminiscent of On Beauty. I skimmed through the rest of the book to see if any other story jumped out at me, but decided to move on to something else instead.
I've been a Zadie Smith fan since her dazzling debut "White Teeth" and this collection of inventive, fresh, entertaining and thought-provoking stories didn't let me down. While I didn't enjoy every story, I liked many of them and was especially impressed with the range of storytelling styles and voices.
I will provide my standard disclaimer, observing that I don't care especially for short stories as a narrative platform. This collection was largely engaging despite the aggregate of poor reviews here. I'd wager an element of such is that the author appears to want us to think, not to to marvel or scrutinize the portraits before us. That might be a projection on my part.
There is also consistent political subtext at play. Perhaps this is most evident in the fantasy The Canker where women bristle at the boorish imposition of The Usurper. Downtown features coverage of the Kavanaugh Confirmation as a sort of Greek chorus. There are also timely asides about racial violence and trans identity.
A few stories towards the middle stalled for me including one regarding a trio of Cultural Icons on a road trip, an endeavor I found just this side of Neil Gaiman. ThroughoutGrand Union I feared Ms. Smith was being haunted by her privilege. There was a definite if dislocated struggle towards reconciliation. I can appreciate that.
These are the stories of someone approaching midlife, but one cursed with a searing eye—one forever parsing sinister symbols and timeless polemics amongst other narratives.
I’ve wanted to read Zadie Smith for a long time so this first foray makes me sad in more ways than one. I still want to get to one of her novels, but this short story collection did not do much for me. I only enjoyed two of them, “Lazy River” and “Grand Union”, while the rest were boring and lacked engagement. As always, YMMV. ------------------------------------------- Favorite Quote: You can only really know the blood you’re swimming in.
First Sentence: “I would like to be on good terms with all animals,” remarked the woman, to her daughter.
(#partner @penguinpress) • I was very lucky to receive an advanced copy of Zadie Smith’s new short story collection, Grand Union. This is the first collection I read for #storyseptember. I really like Zadie Smith in short form! Prior to this one, I’ve only read her novel Swing Time, and it was fine but not a favorite of mine. This one definitely made me more excited to check out some of her other work.
My favorite stories were: • Sentimental Education, about a girl and her college boyfriend who brings his best friend along to college • The Lazy River, about British families vacationing in Spain, that is an almost too spot on metaphor for life as we know it with social media • Escape from New York, which made me really want a post-apocalyptic novel from Smith • Meet the President!, which made me really want a sci-fi novel from Smith • The Canker, which made me really want a fantasy novel from Smith
Basically, I loved all of the stories where Smith branched out in genre. She’s such a great writer, it seems that she does so with ease.
This book has sooo many stories in it! There are 19! For me, the large number of stories did make the collection feel a little bit disparate, but for the most part this is an extremely solid collection. If you’re a Zadie Smith fan or looking to branch into her work, I’d recommend it!
'Grand Union' (2019) is a collection of Zadie Smith's short stories - some new, others having already been published over a period 2013-18 in various journals, but collected here for the first time.
As a whole, this is a strong collection with the various stories ranging from 2* to 5* - although as a whole I have rated 'Grand Union' as a 4*.
As you'd expect from Smith the stories here are, for the most part, insightful, prescient, relevant and very well written. Not being a huge fan of the short story in general though, this may be explain why I still find Smith's novels (including the brilliant novella The Embassy of Cambodia) far more engaging, fully fledged and satisfying - this may amount to nothing more than a personal preference for the novel over the short story, I'm not altogether sure?
Welp, even my least favorite Zadie Smith book is well worth reading. It’s an extremely mixed bag, this one. Most of the stories in this collection didn’t really work for me, but it has some thought-provoking gems.
Believe it or not, this is the first time I have read any of Zadie Smith's word! I am clearly late to the party, and while this short story collection wasn't quite for me, I am convinced that I am going to fall in love with Smith's writing sooner or later.
Grand Union is a short-story collection consisting of 19 tales, some of which have previously been published in various journals and magazines. It's a wild and mostly fun mix, that allows a fabulous peek into what stories and ideas must be floating around in Smith's brain.
My rating is mainly due to me thinking that this probably wasn't the best introduction to her writing. I didn't know what to expect, and the stories were a bit too scattered for me to really feel like I could get a grip at what was happening. It's annoying criticism, considering I would have equally complained had the stories been too similar, but being thrown from a 9/11 fever dream to a muder story set in the 1950s ended up feeling a bit too jumpy.
An unexpected favourite of mine was The Lazy River, a tale of British vacationers in an all-inclusive Spanish resort. It was a poignant tale, sassy almost, that portrayed the absurdity of vacationing as an all-together relatable escape from reality. And that's something she does a lot: comment on society, while also critiquing in a sharp and oftentimes humorous way.
"What is the solution to life? How can it be lived ‘well’?"
One thing I have taken away from this is that Zadie Smith is hella smart. And while this wasn't quite my cup of tea, I think I have got a lot to learn from her and her writing.
I sometimes feel that a particular piece of fiction would have worked better for me had I been in a different mood, but that feeling isn’t usually as acute as it was when I was reading Zadie Smith’s recent short story collection, Grand Union. Smith’s clever writing could be totally illuminating one moment, as when she writes about the inner psyche of somebody who has come upon sudden artistic success in ‘Blocked’, and lumbering and obvious the next, as in ‘Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets’. I feel even more conflicted about this collection because it’s obvious that individual stories I instantly ‘get’ and connect to will seem pretentious and impenetrable to other readers, and vice versa. Publishers Weekly agrees with me about ‘Meet the President’ and ‘The Canker’ but not about ‘Miss Adele’. A lot of the earlier reviews here rave about ‘The Lazy River’, which I thought was a cynical and cliched take on modern life.
To an extent, I expected this mixed bag; Smith’s stories here have been collected across a number of years and seem to represent two modes of her writing. One is the bloated caricatures of White Teeth and On Beauty, which I always found too much, and the annoying literary references that ran through her book of essays, Changing My Mind; the other is the clean brilliance of her more recent work, NW and Swing Time. Occasionally these two modes sit uneasily together, as in ‘Kelso Deconstructed’, which mixes a realist story about a black man being murdered by racists with surrealist encounters with great black thinkers such as Toni Morrison. Smith is also not afraid to try out new genres, but again, the two speculative stories here are hit and miss; the fantastical parable ‘The Canker’ is probably the best fictional take on Trump I’ve read (some of the contributors to A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers could learn from this) but ‘Meet the President’, which imagines a virtual reality future, is wordy and confusing.
Trying to rate this collection was difficult; it contains both 1-star and 5-star stories. In the end, I’ve gone for 3.5 stars, because for me there were more hits than misses. Fans of Smith’s work will probably find stories here that they love, and stories that they hate; I’d be genuinely surprised if anybody adored the whole thing.
I received a free proof copy of Grand Union from the publisher for review.
I received a copy of this short story collection from the publisher via NetGalley.
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.
Zadie to Zadie i wiadomo, że będę czytała wszystko, co napisze. Ale przy okazji lektury tych opowiadań przyszło mi coś (oczywistego przecież) do głowy: jak wiele książek zostaje wydanych, bo autor ma Nazwisko. Czy ktokolwiek opublikowałby w ślepo taki zbiór, gdyby autor był debiutantem lub był mało znany? Obawiam się, że na sto procent można być pewnym, że nie. Zadie 20 lat temu zaliczyła fenomenalny debiut, potem napisała kilka fajnych i dobrych powieści, a potem było chyba coraz gorzej i gorzej. Tu też nie jest rewelacyjnie. No ale wiadomo: Zadie to Zadie, kupujemy i czytamy.
Nieco dziwny jest ten zbiór, opowiadania pochodzą z różnych szuflad. Fikcja, historical fiction, coś w rodzaju esejów, scenki rodzajowe z życia autorki (i znów właśnie one podobały mi się najbardziej - ona trafia do mnie najcelniej, gdy przemawia w pierwszej osobie i jako Zadie Smith. Być może trzeba się pogodzić, że dziś jest lepszą felietonistką, niż pisarką?). Kilka tekstów jest bardzo sugestywnych, kilka zupełnie dla mnie niejasnych, kilka zapewne potrzebowałoby jakiejś redakcyjnej noty wyjaśniającej kontekst (np. opowiadanie o śmierci Kelso Cochrane, o którym być może kiedyś słyszałam, ale w tym akurat momencie nie pamiętałam). Większość oceniam na 3/5, ale sporo 2/5 też tu jest. Czuć, że autorka się starzeje, te teksty mają już zupełnie inny wydźwięk, niż pierwsze powieści. Świat wokół również raczej nie zmienia się na lepsze, choć wraz z wiekiem przyszedł tu dystans i - nie wiem - jakiś taki smutny cynizm. Zadie zawsze ma nam coś mądrego do opowiedzenia i ZAWSZE daje do myślenia (tym razem najintensywniej myślałam nad przerażającym faktem, że bohaterowie każdego tekstu literackiego jaki czytam, o ile nie jest to wyjaśnione, są dla mnie w automatyczny sposób biali), więc nie musi być to czas stracony. Ale nie zdziwię się, gdy poczujecie rozczarowanie po tej lekturze. Raczej tylko dla koneserów i fanów.
Ho molto amato e molto ammirato Denti bianchi, suo primo, unico e ineguagliato capolavoro. I romanzi che sono venuti dopo non erano altrettanto geniali e perfetti, ma erano interessanti. Questa sua prima raccolta di racconti per me è semplicemente illeggibile. Si tratta di cose estremamente diverse e slegate l’una dall’altra (alcuni più sperimentali, alcuni surreali, altri volutamente vecchio stile ma non per questo più comprensibili, per altri ancora mi mancano, semplicemente, gli aggettivi), ma tutti uniti da una caratteristica: non si capiscono. O meglio, io non li ho capiti. Ma nemmeno uno. Ho provato a concentrarmi meglio, a sforzarmi. Niente da fare. Spesso il racconto finisce proprio quando, dopo parecchie pagine, sto ancora cercando di capire chi sono i personaggi. Oppure, se riesco a capire tutto quello che succede, non capisco il senso del racconto. Cito dalla recensione del Guardian: “È un susseguirsi di prove, come se l’autrice fosse in ritardo per una festa in maschera e non avesse ancora deciso quale costume indossare, o se andare in costume, o se invece andare al cinema. Nel libro ci sono l’autofiction, la sperimentazione formale, la fantascienza distopica, il surrealismo, la satira sociale, la parabola e anche una storia scritta dal punto di vista di Dio, riflessione sull’irrequietezza creativa. Cambiare idea: è così che la Smith si sente libera. (…) Smith sembra dire che cambiare idea va bene. Ma quando si parla di qualità letteraria l’incoerenza è un difetto più grave, e alcuni racconti non sono un granché”. Ed è un vero peccato perché la Smith è sicuramente dotata di un’intelligenza acuta e lampante, che sarebbe apprezzatissima se imbrigliata in una forma leggibile. Già con il precedente Swing time avevo pensato che il romanzo era buono ma sovrabbondante di temi, così da causare disorientamento e una sorta di indigestione a chi lo legge. La mia opinione è che Zadie dovrebbe sedersi, tirare un respiro profondo, darsi una calmata e scrivere, con maggiore semplicità e chiarezza, di una cosa alla volta.
A genuinely strange collection of stories. At the core are several stories which seem like essays, or diary entries from the author. They feature the author herself, with obvious references to her actual life, written in a plain style that's completely at odds with Zadie Smith's reputation but still incredibly potent. Blocked, for example, is so clearly about White Teeth and the aftermath during which, as Smith has said herself, she suffered writer's block, that one almost wonders why it's billed as a short story at all. But then another story in the middle, Downtown, offers the key. It's yet another story that features the author and several references to her life (albeit more disguised this time, even if thinly) but the first page centres on another artist (or author) who's done something unusual with his own series of works (books) that has people torn, questioning whether he's elevated the form and breathed new life into it, or ruined it completely, or if his work even qualifies as part of the art form, to begin with. It's meta, of course, not just because it directly speaks to what the author herself is doing in this collection, but it also directly references another author, Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose books which did the same thing, and spurred similar conversation, Smith has said she needs "like crack".
About half of the stories won't be for everyone, but there are many other more "straightforward" and "traditional" stories to satisfy readers. Overall, it affirms why Zadie Smith is one of our greatest living artists. She isn't content to coast. Her obsession with constantly exploring new ways of thinking and mapping new patterns of creativity is a gift to contemporary literature.
Not a stranger to Zadie Smith’s writing, having read and thoroughly enjoyed White Teeth a few years ago, this collection of short stories left me feeling equally satisfied.
Her observation of different cultures is always on point and this collection is a testament to that. Focusing on real-life issues – mainly race, gender, class and relationships - each story is cleverly crafted by the use of honest and contemplative writing.
I think Zadie Smith excels when she uses raw, and at times vulgar, language. She writes dialogue so sharply, characters instantly come alive and the stories leave you wanting more.
I don't know how to rate or review this book... I appreciated it more than I enjoyed it. I admired it more than I liked it. But I'm so glad I read it and it confirms why Zadie Smith is so worth reading.