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The Two Paths of the Novel: Zadie Smith’s NW

There’s no reason to doubt that writing this novel may have shaken Smith out of any complacency she may have felt about her previous works.

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The Two Paths of the Novel: Zadie Smith’s NW

It only makes sense that NW, the fourth novel by Zadie Smith, was anticipated more for its statements than its story. Rarely has an author’s work been so paradigmed so soon, read and discussed less for its characters or memorable scenes than for what certain others had to say about it. Partially this school of career criticism was imposed on her at a very young age by the landslide of press over her debut novel, White Teeth, notably by the reviewer James Wood, who for New Republic made up a stupid name to encompass all of the books in the world he disliked most and declared the author its scion. Partially, however, it’s the author’s own doing, with the clear and many statements of her subsequent efforts: more than one response to the Wood fiasco; a second novel about the effects of fame on the integrity of works of art; a third novel that addressed any and all concerns once voiced about the thing called “hysterical realism”; and the series of high-profile missives on the values and shortcomings of contemporary fiction.

NW arrives in the wake of these ponderous and often pretty essays on Franz Kafka and David Foster Wallace and George Eliot, of a period between novels during which the author grew and grew as a writer of nonfiction and even followed Wood in hijacking one of her reviews for the New York Review of Books into a consideration of the “two paths for the novel,” creating her own name for the problem (“lyrical realism”) and hoping very elegantly for the possibility of “[shaking] the novel out of its complacency.” So it only makes sense that much was expected of NW—at least a glance toward that better path, if not a few actual steps.

And it is, if nothing else, a significant departure in many ways from her previous works, a story whose momentum relies on physical propulsion from setting to setting without narrative intrusion and whose scenes derive naturally from dialogue with no visible introductions or disclaimers. It’s a fluid and less declarative style with Leah, Natalie, and Felix, the main characters, as the true engine, one that wears its shifting devotion to these characters on its sleeve—almost stream of consciousness (more like a trickle), pages formatted into typographic shapes, a whole chapter broken up into fragmented sections that manifest its character’s broken and fragmented self, also a set of Mapquest directions.

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Having done away with some of the formalities of her previous works, the author here focuses on her ear for regional dialect and her eye for the tiniest physical descriptions of the title neighborhood’s vibrant scenery, both of which are remarkable, but without a mouth they just don’t make up a whole face, and that’s maybe the problem. Because it’s the warmth of the narrative voice in White Teeth and On Beauty that holds together their looser threads, the nearly offhanded manner in which their characters’ conflicts are introduced and unfolded and resolved. The stories operate on an inwardization of the narrative eye, by which major plot points are glossed over and then later detailed through scenes and histories and peripheral contexts. And the author’s facility with inward-moving narratives does still slip through in NW, in a chapter about Felix, written from start to finish with almost unbearable dramatic irony as his fate looms and looms. Unlike Leah and Natalie, he’s introduced to us formally, as a news item into which his story then grows. Felix may not end up mattering to the other main characters, but his hundred pages are the most compelling in NW.

The rest of NW seems at times almost like a project against that familiar inward movement, building on smaller interactions and expanding. And it’s maybe the author’s slightly less adept treatment of that outward-facing narrative movement that’s to blame for the recurring feeling of contrivance throughout NW. There’s no reason to doubt that writing this novel may have shaken the author out of any complacency she may have felt about her previous works; it’s well into the story, for instance, that Leah’s social class is juxtaposed against Natalie’s, a striking contrast and exercise in restraint that in any of the author’s earlier works would have been mentioned outright up front. But doing so would have afforded the opportunity to gradually dispel with archetypal notions; leading up, instead, to the later scenes of the two girls reunited as grown contrasted women holds a perverse effect that only reinforces the sneaking suspicion that what they stand for is the only reason they’re here at all. And when the dogs and Craigslist encounters and other major plot points do arrive, they don’t so much address the preceding storylines, but just follow, as if down a long and difficult path.

Zadie Smith’s NW will be released on September 4 by the Penguin Press. To purchase it, click here.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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