Summary and book reviews of Grand Union by Zadie Smith

Grand Union

Stories

by Zadie Smith

Grand Union by Zadie Smith X
Grand Union by Zadie Smith
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2019, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2020, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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About this Book

Book Summary

Zadie Smith has established herself as one of the most iconic, critically respected, and popular writers of her generation. In her first short story collection, she combines her power of observation and her inimitable voice to mine the fraught and complex experience of life in the modern world.

Interleaving eleven completely new and unpublished stories with some of her best-loved pieces from the New Yorker and elsewhere, Smith presents a dizzyingly rich and varied collection of fiction. Moving exhilaratingly across genres and perspectives, from the historic to the vividly current to the slyly dystopian, Grand Union is a sharply alert and prescient collection about time and place, identity and rebirth, the persistent legacies that haunt our present selves and the uncanny futures that rush up to meet us.

Nothing is off limits, and everything—when captured by Smith's brilliant gaze—feels fresh and relevant. Perfectly paced and utterly original, Grand Union highlights the wonders Zadie Smith can do.

The Dialectic

"I would like to be on good terms with all animals," remarked the woman, to her daughter. They were sitting on the gritty beach at Sopot, looking out at the cold sea. The eldest boy had gone to the arcade. The twins were in the water.

"But you are not!" cried the daughter. "You are not at all!"

It was true. What the woman had said was true, in intention, but what the girl had said was true, too, in reality. The woman, though she generally refrained from beef, pork, and lamb, ate-with great relish-many other kinds of animals and fish, and put out flypaper in the summer in the stuffy kitchen of their small city apartment and had once (though her daughter did not know this) kicked the family dog. The woman had been pregnant with her fourth child, at the time, and temperamental. The dog seemed to her, at that moment, to be one responsibility too many.

"I did not say that I am. I said that I should like to be."

The daughter let out a cruel laugh.

"Words are cheap," she said.

Indeed...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Zadie Smith is a much-lauded writer known mostly for her novels; On Beauty was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and Swing Time was long-listed. Short fiction allows for a more experimental approach, which Smith takes advantage of in spades. Grand Union is a challenging, but rewarding reading experience...continued

Full Review (752 words).

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(Reviewed by Erin Lyndal Martin).

Media Reviews

The Guardian
The inconsistency of quality is a more serious flaw. At least eight of the 19 stories in Grand Union aren’t very good...The best stories here are those that act as commentary on her fluctuations and doubts, that blend her criticism with the energy and verve of her fiction. Smith has always been a bit of a smartarse and when she owns that smart-arsery, she’s not only incredibly funny but full of heart, wisdom and truth.

New York Times
While the collection might not coalesce as a unit, it contains some of Smith’s most vibrant, original fiction, the kind of writing she’ll surely be known for. Some of these stories provide hints that everything we’ve seen from her so far will one day be considered her “early work,” that what lies ahead is less charted territory, wilder and less predictable and perhaps less palatable to the casual reader but exactly what she needs to be writing.

BookPage (starred review)
These masterful tales impress, engage and occasionally infuriate as Smith brings her dazzling wit and acute sensitivity to bear…All genres are Smith's to play with.

New York Post, The Fall Books Everyone is Talking About
A gorgeous mix of genres and perspectives.

Entertainment Weekly
It feels fitting…that [Smith's] first short-story collection is as eclectic as it is…Taken all together, the book does feel like a kind of grand union: the lucky synthesis of everything swirling inside Smith's big, beautiful brain.

O, the Oprah Magazine
Grand Union stands as a glittering affirmation of Smith’s virtuosity and range. And because she is such a generous and penetrating observer of the world, one keeps turning the pages and exclaiming with recognition, “oh there we are there we are there we are there we are there we are.”

Washington Post
Zadie Smith is fearless. Her first short story collection, Grand Union, is a soup of contradictions served up with flair. She experiments with form, with language, with conjecture, with the absurd. Tidbits of autofiction, and dashes of speculative fiction are mixed together and seasoned with current events… This is Smith at her best, integrating a compelling story line with perceptiveness and social commentary.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Smart and bewitching…The modern world is refracted in ways that are both playful and rigorous, formally experimental and socially aware…Smith exercises her range without losing her wry, slightly cynical humor. Readers of all tastes will find something memorable in this collection.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Nineteen erudite stories wheel through a constellation of topics, tones, and fonts to dizzying literary effect…Wit marbles Smith's fiction…Several of Smith's stories are on their ways to becoming classics.

Booklist (starred review)
Fury, heartbreak, and drollery collide in masterfully crafted prose that ranges in effect from the exquisitely tragic lyricism of Katherine Mansfield to the precisely calibrated acid bath of Jamaica Kincaid as Smith demonstrates her unique prowess for elegant disquiet.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Café Loup

Exterior of Cafe Loup In Zadie Smith's story "Downtown," characters mourn the closing of Café Loup. The West Village restaurant and bar, founded in 1977, had become a beloved institution to its loyal patrons when it was suddenly seized in September 2018 for over $100,000 in unpaid taxes. The tributes poured in immediately, as did the accounts of the spot's literary history.

Writer Sadie Stein penned an impassioned article of appreciation for Café Loup in the New Yorker. "No one went there for the food," she writes, an unusual assertion about a restaurant. The café, everyone agrees, was not just about community, but about being free to establish connections at a leisurely pace, or just quietly read a book if you didn't want to chat. Most of ...

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