Zadie Smith Experiments With Short Fiction

Rebecca Makkai in the New York Times:

To consider yourself well versed in contemporary literature without reading short stories is to visit the Eiffel Tower and say you’ve seen Europe. Not only would monumental writers be missing from your literary tour, but entire angles and moves and structures of which the novel, in its bulk, is incapable. The quirky neighborhood, the narrow cobblestone alley, the stray cats and small museums and the store that sells only butter.

Since the publication of “White Teeth” in 2000, readers have known Zadie Smith as a novelist of tremendous scope, a maximalist with a global eye and mind. Those who’ve been paying attention have also caught her stories along the way in our better magazines and journals — stories that until recently have, for the most part, followed a linear narrative, taking advantage of the shorter form but not its more eccentric powers.

Some of these more traditional stories have landed in Smith’s first collection, “Grand Union,” and while still brilliant on the level of the sentence, the paragraph, the often hilarious skewering of humanity, they’re the least successful ones here, sour notes in a collection in which the best pieces achieve something less narrative and closer to brilliance.

More here.