Grand Union: Stories by Zadie Smith is an offbeat story collection that dives into the lives of various characters from the U.K. to New York. The author’s literary fiction style sometimes shines in certain stories and fails to deliver in others.
The longer stories resonate stronger because the characters are established better, with some even having chapters. “Sentimental Education” is about a college couple where the young woman is trying to find herself sexually while she becomes annoyed by her boyfriend’s attention to his recently jailed best friend. “Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets” surrounds a drag queen’s shopping trip to a department store to find a version of an old corset; the corset has changed and so has the store’s management. “Downtown” sounds like it has more personal reflection from the author as the narrator details an everyday adventure in New York City from noticing the movements of an artist to dropping the kids off at school. “Big Week” features a recovering alcoholic as we follow him from meeting his son at the bar, picking up a professional woman at the airport for his new job as a driver, and reuniting with his ex-wife as he moves out.
Stories like “The Dialectic” and “The Lazy River” are similar to “Downtown” with describing what sounds like Zadie’s real moments, but they describe the setting and characters mostly without having a tangible plot. Other stories like “Kelso Deconstructed” and “For the King” have an overflow of conversation and character descriptions that buries the plot.
Overall, it’s an interesting short story collection because there isn’t a central theme; it’s her random stories, many previously published in magazines, placed together in one book. Some stories stand out while others don’t.