This is a collection of short stories by Zadie Smith, collected from the last six years or so. Given her primary status as a novelist, the length of time this collection covers, and the relative thinness of this collection, this comes through as an odds and ends collection replete with a handful of more experimental works. I generally like Zadie Smith novels, with only one I don’t think is very good, one which is better, but less good, and the rest being quite good, and in addition I really like her nonfiction works, it’s frustrating that I don’t really like this collection very much. I think this in part is because a lot of the works in this collection feel dilletantish. That we have a novelist writing short fiction and short fiction that is more experimental feels like playing in someone else’s lane (as opposed to a novel writing career balanced with a lot of short story writing, or a more targeted and purposeful collection), but add into the fact that this is an English writer writing about a lot of American characters in America adds to these feelings.
All of that said, it’s impossible, I think, for Zadie Smith to write an expressly bad book, only books that don’t work as well as others. There’s still a lot of really insightful and interesting writing here, and an ear to the ways in which people talk, or the ways in which people post online. There’s a real discomfort with the world here. Like a lot of people a little more in the middle in their middle years, there’s a desire in this collection for balance, something the current world seems to lack wholesale.