when I experienced my first affinity for the writing and the story. Stamford, a man who annoyed me previously, carried the first intense moments. I believe he was having hallucinations induced by a “concoction” given to him by a man enslaved on a neighboring farm. It was during a fierce storm that lead him to face death, no, welcome it, versus his previous fear of it. At nearly 50 I believe it was a coming of age spirit quest that he had and that would bring what I’m assuming the author implies as comfort later on in his life. It could have been said about Stamford, “there is no fool like an old fool” or “a fool at 50 is a fool forever” but Jones made the decision to break that legacy for Stamford.
Elle is reading his other book which is short stories, Lost in the City. I wonder if any of the characters (in form) can be found in any of the stories. I might be brave enough to check out the short stories, but not too soon.
I am half way through this book and it is slow going…I keep working to find the point of it all but am quite disappointed. My expectations of an African American author to create layers and layers of complexities and conflict given the subject have gone flat. The promise of chaos hasn’t happened. The characters have remained roughly sketched and cliche. I’m always suspicious when a book as trade reviews on the cover versus that of other authors; I should have trusted my instincts. Now, I feel compelled to finish the darn thing.
After such a dull book, I’ll need to play in color of fabric or paint (working on my first altered book) to come alive.
(Amistad, First paperback edition 2004)
I started this book 2 nights ago. It is about slavery in the 1800s and the story is being pushed forward through blind narration. Thus far, the dialogue is minimal and only seems to be provided to support the narration.
Cane River is the last book I read that was set in the 1800s and addressed enslavement and I found that story gripping and sad. The Known World I’ve yet to “feel” it but will continue to read to see what the author’s point is…generally speaking the story is about an African American slave owner and his slaves after his death…the book summary tells me that chaos is going to ensue. I hope Alice, the one character that “ain’t quit right in the head” comes out okay. So far, she is the only one I have a slight affinity for…not that I dislike the characters, they just are…plain, without much personality or physical description. At times the story has struck me as a draft versus being a final edit.
Some of the phrasing I find beautiful and will share some in future posts on this book.
Why Zadie Smith do you do this? Another climatic ending that left me hanging. I’ll pick up Autograph Man, her novel before this one, after Thanksgiving.
and I can’t even begin to put my finger on how the book will end.
Let me start with the characters. Jerome, the oldest of the Belsey children made a fool of himself with his first real love, Victoria Kipps. Zora, the middle Belsey child, is brilliant, articulate, and loves a fight but hasn’t quite settled into her sense of a woman. Levi, the youngest of the Belsey brew lives a double life as a urban, hip-hop, down in the hood vs. the very liberal, academic, surburban life that his family has made. The parents are Howard and Kiki…Howard is a white Englishman from a poor working class background who is a liberal, very liberal, academic in the Humanities. Kiki, his wife of 30 years, is a nurse from the Southern U.S. and they live in a small northern college town where Howard teaches.
The Kipps family are the antithesis to the Belseys. A English family by way of Jamaica and very religious and conservative. Monty Kipps, the patriarch of this brew has landed a position at the liberal university where Howard teaches. And is cunning and clever…his delivery at the staff meeting was challenging…had me confused about who and what gets defined as conservative/liberal.
As I stated in my previous post, this story is about betrayal on so many levels of human existence. The spontaneous accidents that tether on chaos has kept me in the dark where this is all going to lead. I’m hanging back on the end. Why? Because Smith introduces me to such strange characters and a world that I could not know, but somewhere along the line I find them odd, I hate them and then love them that I don’t want to close the book on them. I wish I could just pick up the telephone and tell Howard just what I think or just ask Carlene Kipps, Monty’s wife, what in the hell is wrong? Or sit across from Claire (another supporting character) and roll my eyes when she says something that she thinks is deep. Even though the world that Smith writes about is so distant from my own, in both the novels that I’ve read by her I get inside the story and begin writing my own dialogue…you know how people talk to the tv screen when watching sports or a movie just as if they can be heard? That would be me with this book.
I guess tonight I’ll go ahead and knock it out.
When reading fiction I always try to understand the traits that characterizes the novel with the belief that they hold a message about the over all story. In this novel, the characters are always in motion, rarely ever still, the story, scenes, and dialect also advance rather rapidly as well; and the third element is the diversity of characters that occupy the same space. The same elements I found present in her freshman novel, White Teeth.
The title of the novel is taken from a poem written by one of the characters, Claire, but I can’t relate it to the overall novel. My brother asked me what it was about…hard to sum it up, but my reply was betrayal…betrayal and clashes between lovers, ideologies, ways of existing, speech, class, sex, race, etc. Of course if she did what she did in White Teeth, there will be no reconciliation but a climax of gargantum proportions leaving me with a wtf feeling of bewilderment. If this is the case, I will be leaning toward the idea that Smith likes to construct social experiments in her novels that tumble in chaos…as if chaos is necessary to move forward social/culturally or either that chaos is inevitable as a natural phenonmena. The latter idea certainly connects with the constant motion of the characters.