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On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty by Zadie Smith: Whenever I review a book, I feel a need to at least briefly sum up the plot. It’s hard to decide if one might want to read something without even knowing vaguely what it’s about. Unfortunately, I’m having a bit of a tough time with this one. See, this book is about family and infidelity and race relations and Haiti and Britain and New England and intellectualism and hip hop and poetry and more. The main characters are the Belseys: white British art history professor Howard, his black American wife Kiki, and his three very different children. Jerome is experimenting with Christianity and conservatism, Zora is an insatiable intellectual, and Levi is struggling to discover what it means to be black. My favorite character by far was Kiki. She was warm and friendly without being a doormat for her idiot husband. (Yeah, I didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for Howard.) The story itself was interesting, more or less covering one turbulent year in the lives of the Belseys. Unfortunately, once it reached the (rather predictable) climax, there was a big time skip, followed by a sort of lackluster coda, like the author ran out of steam. I don’t need tidy endings with everything all neatly tied up, but I would have liked a little more detail on what happened between the Big Drama and the fizzle of a conclusion. If you’re the sort of person who likes reading page by page, enjoying the sensation of being in someone else’s life, you’ll probably enjoy this one. The characters are realistic and recognizable. Personally, I like books that go somewhere, where at the end I can tell why the author felt a desire to tell that particular story. This one left me a little disappointed.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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