Skin Deep

Stephen Metcalf reviews On Beauty for Slate, part of their Book Blitz this fall, and recommends that the Booker committee not award her the prize.

I recommend this not because Smith isn’t richly, almost absurdly, talented—which she is—and not because On Beauty isn’t a good book, because it is. I offer my recommendation because Smith, being so young, is too content to write well only in auroral bursts; too ready to concede a character to stereotype; and, in the presence of serious ideas, too quick to be woolly-headed and imprecise.

In typical Slate fashion – irreverent and blunt – Metcalfe describes the book as banal,

The second reason On Beauty might have rescued itself from its own tendency to topical banality is simply this: It is written by an exquisite writer, who has mistaken her admirable pooh-poohing of a lot of foolish publicity for a free pass to get by as an overcelebrated mediocrity.

Oooh, that must hurt. He tries to make amends with this, but the damage has already been done.

Therefore, Dear Committee, I plead with you to assist in removing the cameras and quote-mongers from Zadie Smith’s life and help prevent her from blowing up into an even larger global literary darling, prone to even more gratuitous Hamlet-like maunderings, and let the woman who could write the following develop into her appointed greatness:

“Always off somewhere, yes,” said Howard genially, but it did not seem to him he traveled so very much, though when he did it was more and further than he wished. He thought of his own father again—compared to him, Howard was Phineas Fogg. Travel had seemed the key to the kingdom, back then. One dreamed of a life that would enable travel. Howard looked through his window at a lamp-post buried to its waist in snow supporting two chained-up, frozen bikes, identifiable only by the tips of their handlebars. He imagined waking up this morning and digging his bike out of the snow and riding to a proper job, the kind Belseys had had for generations, and found he couldn’t imagine it. This interested Howard, for a moment: the idea that he could no longer gauge the luxuries of his own life.