Tonight at dinner I was holding court (a court of two, but I was mildly drunk and rambling, so) over this book and how the premise of it is very, very close to Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters. They both feature women in sort of comfortable but twitchy marriages, grappling with the fact that they haven’t had a child. They both live in gentrifying but poverty-ridden neighborhoods in big cities, and are constantly confronted with and dealing with class differences. And, most importantly, they both deal with an intruder. Desperate Characters’ is a stray cat, NW is a lady/drug addict. In both cases, the husband thinks the wife a naif, a fool, she shouldn’t have let the woman in and given her money / she shouldn’t have fed the cat. The women both obsess over the cat/the lady and the line is never fully drawn between their childlessness and the maternal instinct to help the helpless but it is definitely THERE. Helping the cat/woman leads to both women’s unraveling, and in both cases, sort of affirms their decision to not have kids, or at the very least, affirms the reality that things are more complicated than, “We’re trying!” or, “We forgot to have kids!” It’s very blatant!
Also I should say here that you should read Desperate Characters! It’s some fucked up shit. And Paula Fox is a reeeally, really great writer. Well, the kind of writer I like: emotional microcosm, elegant prose, strong female 1st person or close third, FEELINGS, and so on. This is pretty much all I read.
LUCKILY for Zadie Smith, this book is also that. Her shit is not usually like this, and I like it much better for that reason. Eat your heart out, Michiko. If I want to read a novel like White Teeth I can go watch Love Actually or something, am I right? (No? No?)
Anyway. I realized this then started furiously googling, “Zadie Smith” “Paula Fox” “Desperate Characters”” in bed this morning, and I found, well, I found an abstract of a review Zadie Smith wrote in the June 2011 Harper’s of Paula Fox’s latest book of essays (my review: kind of indulgent, but still worth reading if you like her). Now, I cannot read this review because Harper’s has a business model straight outta 1993, but I did read someone’s blog post about this review (for real) and she referenced how much Z. Smith loves Paula Fox’s fiction. This, I assume, means Desperate Characters. Which means she had read it; loved it; stolen a plot device from it.
Boom! So, here I am vindicated in the pettiest, most meaningless way. Kind of thrilling, honestly! Just wanted to…tell everyone that. And Zadie: I’m onto your shit. Congrats on evolving as an artist and whatnot. I’m into it. Onto it and into it.
You guys gotta read Desperate Characters though. Oof.