Swing Time by Zadie Smith

st“Please,” my roommate begged as we packed our bags, “take it. I can’t even look at it. I want to love it. But I just- ugh!” She threw her hands up and collapsed onto her bed.

The “it” she was referring to is Swing Time by Zadie Smith. We were packing our carry on bags and she was desperately trying to make the 50 pound limit by  giving me books she had read (or in this case, attempted to read). I took the book, partly because I had heard that Zadie Smith was an incredible author, and partly because I had nothing to read on the immenent thirteen hour flight.

For the first half of the flight, I thought my roommate was right. Zadie Smith is an extremely talented writer. Every sentence, deliberately constructed, presents interesting ideas in beautiful ways. But every sentence. It was exhausting. Even selecting quotes for this review was difficult. So many amazing sentences! How could I chose?

“Sometimes I wonder if people don’t want freedom as much as they want meaning.”

I took a break halfway through Swing Time to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off then continued to read. Someplace in the middle, the novel clicked for me. I fell in love with the prose, carefully written but jarringly truthful.

Swing Time has two protagonists: the unnamed narrator and her childhood friend, Tracey. The two meet in ballet class, the only black girls, although both are biracial. Throughout the novel, Smith uses dance as a platform to discuss race, money, sexuality, and relationships. Both girls follow very different trajectories in life, but the two keep inexplicably intersecting throughout the novel.

“And I became fixated, too, upon Katharine Hepburn’s famous Fred and Ginger theory: He gives her class, she gives him sex. Was this a general rule? Did all friendships—all relations—involve this discreet and mysterious exchange of qualities, this exchange of power?”

Smith’s characters are fleshed-out, her prose visceral. If you don’t mind working for it, you, too, will fall in love with Swing Time. 

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