Did you ever run into someone you once knew, someone you sort of purposely lost touch with? You didn't really like this person. You didn't have a lot of respect for this person, maybe thinking they were phony or a snob. Maybe you thought that all of their friends and family were pretentious assholes and you just didn't feel comfortable around them. Upon seeing this person you don't want to appear rude so you ask them how they've been, hoping that they'll just answer with the customary, "Oh, fine." But instead they proceed to tell you every single detail about their life over the past year. Every mistake and misstep. Every conversation, even the most banal and pointless. Every affair and sexual encounter. Every win. Every loss. Every detail about the lives of their wife and three children, all of whom also really bug you. You're sort of intrigued, but yet you also just want it all to end soon.
That's what it was like to read this book.
On Beauty centers around the Belsey family. Howard Belsey, the patriarch, is a professor at a small prestigious college outside Boston. Kiki Belsey is Howard's wife and she's always felt a bit out of place amongst Howard's intellectual friends and co-workers. This out of place feeling is exacerbated when she discovers that Howard has been having an affair with one of their good friends. After spending the last 30 years as wife and mother, Kiki sees her little world come crashing down around her and begins to wonder what her life is really all about. They have three almost grown children, Jerome, Zora, and Levi.
Here's the deal............. I had planned on writing a big long thing about this book because a lot happens and there is a lot I had wanted to say, but I'm tired. All day long I've been loading boxes and furniture into the POD and getting the place ready for tomorrows Open House/Mega Garage Sale (Keep your fingers crossed that I don't kill anyone.) So here's the abbreviated version:
This book was okay. Not great, but good enough to make me want to read all 450 pages. All the characters bugged me because I felt as if they were all very obsessed with how things appear or seem, rather than how they actually are. Because of this personality flaw, they were constantly doing things that defied all common sense or decency. A few times this made for good juicy reading. Other times it was just cringe inducing. For instance, when Howard has gross, drunken, sex with Victoria, his son's ex-fiancee and the first girl to seriously break his heart, you know it's just not going to end well for anyone.
The book's dialogue was very forced and contrived but the story kept that juicy/cringe inducing pace up until the very end and although I was irritated and bored with it at times, I mostly liked it.
That being said, I want to take a moment or two to say something about the author: She annoys the living piss out of me. She's let me down one too many times.
Ten years ago, I tried to read her first book, White Teeth, and was immediately turned off by it. I can't remember a lot about the book now, but I do know that one of the main characters was one of Jehovah's Witnesses and that particular character was portrayed inaccurately. As you all know, I have no fondness for the religion I was raised in, but I hate it when people can't get their facts straight. I really wish that I still had that book in my possession so that I could quote directly from it, but sadly it's long gone.
Fortunately, there is Amazon.com and their wonderful reviewers, which is where I found this quote from A Customer: ".....The author also used half facts, and down right untruths about certain things pivotal to the story (i.e. the Jehovah's Witnesses religion, multicultural London life) to blatantly patronise and mislead the reader. I am not a Jehovah's Witness, but I know for a fact, that Clara would not have been sent to a Catholic school, none of their members would wear a cross.....and they don't sing secular hymns and they are not your stereotypical Pentecostal churchgoers, in fact a Witness wouldn't use the word church..."
Now I know if we were in a court of law Zadie Smith's past transgressions would be inadmissible in this case, but I feel that if she tried to deceive me once, she'd probably try to do it again. The whole time I was reading On Beauty, I kept wondering if I should be fact checking the story. So, I don't trust her and I feel as if her literary voice is inauthentic.
Zadie Smith is a very famous, critically acclaimed author. But despite all her accolades, I can't shake the feeling that she's just a little girl playing make believe and trying to get the whole world to play along. Personally, I've decided that I'm not going to play along anymore. There are a lot of authors out there who are willing to play by the rules and there are plenty of books in the library.