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 (view spoiler). 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 skip this one.
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”.
My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2 stars