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The Autograph Man (Vintage International)by Zadie Smith
"Considered on its own, The Autograph Man is something strange and remarkable, a rumination on grief that resists its own profundity, trips into pratfalls of slapstick, and exposes the dark longing beneath our fascination with celebrities." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
"The Autograph Man...creates genuine disappointment, not the synthetic sort one is told to feel even in those cases of second-novel syndrome where the first novel wasn't, in fact, very good....[It is] very much smaller — less accomplished and less felt on every level — than [White Teeth]....By the time of [Alex's] return trip the novel has become so zany and improvisational that a reader wonders if Smith herself can track its action. And yet for all the rushing about, The Autograph Man feels not so much busy as empty, like a short story that's been padded beyond any reason....The Autograph Man, following White Teeth by only two years, makes a reader wonder what pressures, internal or commercial, compelled Zadie Smith to get back out there quite so quickly. Her new novel is too little too soon, and although she has more talen than just about anyone else in the room, no one, she needs to be reminded, has talent to burn." Thomas Mallon, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic review)
"The creation of Alex, in all his post-adolescent atrociousness, is new proof of Smith's talent. At a time when few young novelists seem willing to wander far from the comforts of autobiography, Smith's flexible imagination confirms her as a writer who deserves to be taken seriously. It is difficult to think of another recent novel in which a woman has drawn a male narrator so convincingly....In comparison with the richness of story and metaphor that characterized White Teeth, though, The Autograph Man feels disappointingly slim. For the earlier book's patient unrolling of plot and character it substitutes the tricks of the McSweeney's age: quirky lists, cute drawings, typographical high-jinks." Ruth Franklin, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
Alex-Li Tandem sells autographs. His business is to hunt for names on paper, collect them, sell them, and occasionally fake them — all to give the people what they want: a little piece of Fame. But what does Alex want? Only the return of his father, the end of religion, something for his headache, three different girls, infinite grace, and the rare autograph of forties movie actress Kitty Alexander. With fries.
The Autograph Man is a deeply funny existential tour around the hollow trappings of modernity: celebrity, cinema, and the ugly triumph of symbol over experience. It offers further proof that Zadie Smith is one of the most staggeringly talented writers of her generation.
"Supposedly this is Zadie Smith's 'small' novel, to follow up on her sprawling debut, the 2000 bestseller White Teeth, but the truth is that (so far) every Zadie Smith book is big — if not in length, then in energy, in thought and in feeling. A new novel from her feels like an occasion to open up another chamber in your heart and another lobe in your brain to take it all in; some books are expansive, hers are expanding, but never in a dreary, good-for-you way. Even in a year of strong books, The Autograph Man is cause to celebrate....Smith likes to trample over the usual delimiters of identity on her way to portraying a new kind of mongrel world citizen: little bit of this, little bit of that....For Smith's readers, the journey is a lark, lit up by witty, head-turning observations....Most novelists as smart as Smith tend not to like people that much, while the ones with big hearts tend to have soft heads....Whatever barrier keeps writers from fully inhabiting both territories seems to be as irrelevant to Smith as all the others. What did we do to deserve a young novelist this brilliant, this generous, this alive, here among what often look like the dying embers of the form? Nothing, really. Like Adam, we're just lucky — even if half the time we're too thick to know it." Laura Miller, Salon.com
About the Author
Zadie Smith was born in northwest London in 1975. The Autograph Man is her second novel. Her first, White Teeth, was the winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, and the Commonweatlh Writers First Book Prize. She is currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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