Posts Tagged ‘zadie smith’

Monday Medley

What we read on our 48-hour sabbatical from MSNBC…

The Corrections and the Big Novel

In James Wood’s influential review, “Human, All Too Inhuman,” of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, he discussed what he calls “the littleness of the big novel.” His point, put somewhat crudely, was that as the ambition of novelists grows to include encompassing the entire geographical, political, and philosophical spectrum, works of fiction end up losing their humanity. As Smith herself said, “It is not the writer’s job to tell us how somebody felt about something; it’s to tell us how the world works.” As a result, Wood claims, the movement that he termed “hysterical realism” produces work that “knows a thousand things, but does not know a single human being.” 

About a year after Wood’s condemnation of contemporary fiction first appeared in The New Republic, The Corrections was published. Jonathan Franzen’s novel certainly does not lack the kind of ambition Wood talks about: The Corrections spans cities, countries, and continents, covers multiple generations, deals with financial disasters and Eastern European political instability, looks at modern academia and middle-class suburbia. In short, the book does seem to know a thousand things.

And yet Franzen’s story remains wholly grounded and deeply personal. At its heart, The Corrections is a story of a Midwestern family, the Lamberts. The Lambert patriarch, Alfred, is a stubborn, straight-laced, intelligent, and principled man who is suffering from early but unmistakable signs of senility as the novel begins. As Franzen puts it: Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Decade in Literature, Part II

In case you missed Part I of our quick glimpses of the decade’s most noteworthy fiction, you can check it out here.

White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith’s first novel came out in the first month of the Aughts, and seemed to be an important, symbolic moment for literature at large. For one, it led critic James Wood to coin the term “hysterical realism,” a catch-all term for the kind of “big novel” Smith and many other young writers of this decade were writing. While the term was used pejoratively, it is an important indicator of the ambition of certain modern novelists. Smith’s novel traces two families through the entire second half of the century, covering World War II and the 1990s. The scope is an important theme, highlighting the grasp past events have on our modern lives, whether we like it or not.

–John S

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

The novelistic memoir that propelled Eggers to full-on Voice of the Generation stature, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius does its best to live up to its name. Eggers manages to be meta without being condescending and to be funny without sacrificing poignancy. In crafting a deeply personal story that resonates universally, Eggers proved—for the first time—that he is a fascinating and compelling storyteller of the highest order.

–Tim

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