NR Digital

Unreal Fictions

by Sarah Ruden

Swing Time, by Zadie Smith (Penguin, 416 pp., $27)

Living overseas for many years, I learned to ask open-ended questions about culture. Thus I came to know, for example, a little of what the late-20th-century German army — beefed up by a draft and a rich country’s high taxes, but unable to do much of anything militarily — was like inside. An acquaintance of mine had served on the champion river-crossing-with-full-battle-gear team. (He did not seem worried that, in the event of a Russian invasion, he and his veteran comrades would not know how to resist except by finding a river and crossing and recrossing it; I didn’t have the heart to suggest this to him.)

I hope it’s the same for information-age fiction; in fact, my questions have to be open-ended, as I’m deeply bewildered. I can’t even call these books postmodern, as they seem rather to be post-everything: post-family, post-individual, post-religion, post-industrial-capitalism, post-national, post-feminist, post-ethnic. They don’t venture a clear reordering or critique, as modernism does; nor do they offer earnest or even ironic substitutions for our consideration, as postmodern visual art did when Jeff Koons depicted Michael Jackson in porcelain with the stated intention of “creating” him “in a very god-like icon manner.”

Send a letter to the editor.

Get the NR Magazine App
iPad/iPhone   |   Android