Friday, March 31, 2006

On Zadie Smith

On Beauty
by Zadie Smith
On Beauty is the work of someone very smart. White Teeth is also the work of someone very smart. Autograph Man I skipped.

According to critics and my friends, Zadie Smith came into her own with On Beauty, and I liked it -- I really, really liked it.


There's something about her characters that I can't quite relate to. Maybe somehow that's the point, but it keeps me from quite getting engrossed in a book.

Howard Belsey is a professor at a private East Coast college. His youngest is in high school, the older two in college. He is in his late 50s. His 30-year marriage to KiKi is in trouble. Mostly, his problems are boring.

Howard reminds me of Grady Tripp from Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. Both are sort-of has-beens who have been working on books with no end in site. But despite Grady's being pathetic and a bit of a dog, I rooted for him. I just want to tell Howard to get it together. Oh, and to stop being boring.

Kiki is the most sympathetic of the characters. She has problems, too. These problems are less boring, maybe because KiKi isn't so consumed with herself.

There's lots of academic politics in On Beauty, and so I couldn't help but think of Jane Smiley's Moo, though On Beauty is not as satirical or as mean.

Smith captures campus life, with all the language that goes along with it, in perfect detail, but it's been done.

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