Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Summary: Two brown girls dream of being dancers, but only Tracey has talent. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten. Tracey struggles with adult life, but makes it to the chorus line. Her friend experiences how the one percent live as an assistant to superstar, Aimee.
So Many Words, So Little Story
Swing Time felt like the story that would never end while also being the story I was waiting to actually begin. The story includes the narrator’s life as friend, daughter, girlfriend, and assistant. There is also dance history, insight into the privilege of being white, rich, and famous, and the universality of the black experience wedge in the story. Although that sounds like a lot to put into one book, it didn’t feel like enough time was spent flushing out all these story elements.
This is especially true within the overall story arc for the main character. Swing Time switches between the past of the main character’s childhood and the present where she navigates adulthood. It wouldn’t be Swing Time without the sprinkling of the celebration of dance through the story. I usually enjoy a story with unconventional storytelling, but it didn’t work for me this time. I just wanted more!
The Name Game
One part of Swing Time I found interesting is we never learn the main character’s name. She never mentions her own name, and no other person calls her by her name throughout the story. While reading, I wondered if not knowing her name was supposed to make me relate more to the character and feel like everyone could be talking to me. I can say with certainty I never felt like I was inside the narrator’s shoes. I rarely sympathized with her. She often came off as whiny, selfish, and lacking purpose in most things.
The other meaning I took from her name not being mentioned was because her sole purpose was to be in service to those in her life. She was never able to find her own purpose outside of that. As a child, she lived for Tracey. In college, it was her hotep boyfriend. For most of her 20s and early 30s, it was all about Aimee. It is really not until her world starts falling apart that she actually starts to look more inward.
This was probably not the best book to read as an introduction to Zadie Smith. I have heard nothing but great things about Zadie Smith, so I was primed for a really good read with Swing Time because the book world told me how amazing Zadie Smith’s books are, and I believed them. Although I will not deny Zadie Smith’s writing skills, I have to admit this book was kind of a let down for me.
The story was not the worst thing I’ve ever read. There were times when I couldn’t get enough of the Swing Time story. Other times, I was struggling to get through chapters. Swing Time was mostly highs, but the lows were sometimes hard to navigate. However, I am eager to experience another Zadie Smith story and hope for a better experience in my next read. Rating: Laborious Literature