Upstate

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Upstate is essentially a novel of deep nostalgia and implicit longing for a different, past, life. In that sense, it held a deep connection for me. The novel is written by James Wood, a New Yorker book critic. 

The story is about Alan, an aging Britisher who visits his grown up daughters in Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York. It is an exploration of their relationship and a rather feeble attempt by a father to try and understand why his two children are so different - from him and from each other.

While Alan seems to genuinely want to understand and perhaps help his daughters, he isn’t really prepared or even has the tools necessary to grasp their first-world predicaments. His own angst, driven partly by a failed marriage, partly by failed parenting and partly by a failed perception of his own business success, Alan is a classical old man exhibiting classical old man “issues”.  

If you are in your middle age then it is not hard to relate to Alan. You can see  at least some of your possible futures converge into that existential angst. 

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Swing Time: A Novel
By Zadie Smith

My encounter with authors that I love whose books I cannot stand seems to continue. Swing Time is tedious, boring and a chore - and yet - Zadie Smith's writing is so beautiful - you want to hang it on the wall. 

Swing Time starts out well as a story paralleling the lives of two young girls of color in London and discusses their similar but different experiences. This is the fun part. As the girls grow up, the wheels seem to largely come off. And as always, I often wonder - are bad stories just an indication of bad reality? Art imitating life again?

The cogent personal experience of the first part dissolves into a rather detached, outsider peering into their own life hoping to find something more than was really there. Good writers can often find more in banality than most of us can in significant events. But Smith, as great as she is, struggles to make gold out of this mud. Every sentence, beautiful in it self, fails to tell a story of any merit.