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Zadie Smith (#110 of 13)

Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Adult World

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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: <em>Adult World</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2013: <em>Adult World</em>

In Scott Coffey’s Adult World, former Nickelodeon star Emma Roberts takes on the difficult task of convincing an audience to root for an obnoxious, self-obsessed aspiring poet, and doesn’t quite stick the landing. She plays 22-year-old Amy, introduced to the audience in the midst of a half-hearted suicide attempt. Staring listlessly at a poster of Sylvia Plath, Amy first sticks her head inside of an oven, then thinks better of that “suicidal plagiarism,” opting instead to pull a plastic bag loosely over her head. This is a fitting first introduction to our heroine: melodramatic and a little ridiculous. She’s the kind of girl who relishes in her white, hipster, middle-class ennui, describing riding a city bus as “like being in Mogadishu.”

The film then flashes back a year. After Amy’s parents decide that they “can’t afford to subsidize” her poetry career anymore and tell her that she needs to grow up, the loan-saddled college grad moves out of their home. Hurt by their lack of faith in her, she pursues a literary career by stalking her favorite living poet, Rat Billings (John Cusack), and takes a job at an adult video store managed by a cute, affable twentysomething male (Evan Peters) with the words “love interest” practically tattooed to his forehead. There are a few comic scenes where the virginal Amy squirms in the presence of dildos and “sticky DVD returns,” but from the oversexed store owner played by Cloris Leachman, to the display of vibrators that Amy clumsily sends crashing to the ground when she first enters Adult World, the humor is as broad as a football field.

The Two Paths of the Novel Zadie Smith’s NW

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