Swing Time

Penguin Pr. Nov. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9781594203985. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399564314. F
The remarkable Smith (NW) again does what she does best, packing a personal story (here, identifiably, of two competitive female friends) into a larger understanding of how we humans form tribes (a word used throughout). In London, two mixed-race girls meet in dance class, and while the narrator passionately loves movement, carefully studying steps in old-time movies, it’s glamorous, dominant, socially advanced Tracey who wins medals and advances in her training. Even as their relationship veers between close and cold, our heroine struggles with a feminist, socially conscious Jamaica-born mother who spouts history lessons about social oppression and is disappointed when her daughter chooses not to stretch herself, ending up at a second-rate university and finally as a personal assistant to international pop sensation Aimee. Aimee is currently pushing a vainglorious project to bring a school to an African village, leaving plenty of room for Smith’s ever nuanced play between and within racial and class structures. The narrative moves deftly and absorbingly between its increasingly tense coming-of-age story and the adult life of the sympathetic if naïve and sometimes troubling narrator, whose betrayal of Aimee echoes Tracey’s betrayal of her.
VERDICT A rich and sensitive drama highly recommended for all readers. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/16.]
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