Saturday, February 6, 2010

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Two academic families, one liberal, one conservative, both black, keep encountering each other while disaster ensues.

Only the mothers connect – they have no interest in staking out a philosophical position like the men are. But what a novelist! What characters! This book is ambitious and offers opinions about political correctness, liberal pieties, America, marriage, young men, sex and love. And art too – poetry and painting. The fresh take is that there is a black perspective – the rich black conservative academic, the middle class black hospital administrator, the poor Haitian waiter – we see things from their side, as we usually don't.

The only problem is the ending – these big themes and big characters don’t resolve in a big significant scene rather I felt like the bloody stumps of the plotlines were cauterized to wrap everything up, and we end up with a beautifully written paragraph, rather than an ending that fits the architecture of the book. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this novel.

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