Although Zadie Smith’s Swing Time tells the story of two London friends – girls from the hood who grow up together, one with talent, the other with ambition – Guardian reviewer Taiye Selasi clearly identified Smith’s theme but it’s taking me awhile to digest it:
“Our narrator seeks above all a place where she belongs. That place is what a best friend, even an estranged one, can be, especially for a woman. Its comforts cannot be underestimated, not least in a life of great change. Like all of Smith’s novels, Swing Time has brilliant things to say about race, class, and gender, but its most poignant comment is perhaps this. Given who we are, who we are told that we are not, and who we imagine we might become, how do we find our way home?”
Tracey, with an absent father and an angry mother, is the talented dancer and rebel. “She wears flashy clothes, has lots of boyfriends and takes a lot of drugs.” The unnamed narrator is the good girl, who goes to college and eventually gets a job with Aimee, the celebrity stereotype.
I am still reading – about halfway through. Smith uses the current popular writing style of alternating chapters from present to past, with the foundation of the girls’ lives offering rationale for their decisions later in life. I am finding the past more palatable and I like to linger over the stories of the best friends’ younger selves. The chapters detailing Aimee’s much publicized efforts to build a school in an unnamed African country have been wearing.
This is probably a book I should have consumed in one swallow, but the holidays with time-consuming rituals distracted me. The initial references to Fred Astaire movies and dance routines (hence the title) were also appropriate for the swinging back and forth in the girls’ lives but can make following the story difficult, and the narrator’s angst a little too heavy.
To help get me on track, I found the New York Times review by Holly Bass
On the other hand, maybe I’ve read enough…