If Zadie Smith Had Entered the Contest

by Zadie Smith

“It’s not true, is it, Dad?”

Howard’s face stayed the same. It took a minute. The Victoria incident was so happily concluded in his mind that it was a mental stretch to remember that this did not mean the incident was not a real thing in the world, capable of discovery.

“I saw Victoria Kipps last night. Dad?”

Howard held his expression in place.

“And Jerome thinks . . .” said Zora, with difficulty, “somebody said something and Jerome thinks . . .” Zora hid her wet face behind her elbow. “It’s not true, is it?”

Howard put a hand over his mouth. He had just seen the step after this and the step after that, all the way to the awful end.

“I . . . oh, God, Zora . . . oh, God . . . I don’t know what to say to you.”

Here Zora used an ancient English expletive, very loudly.

Howard stood up and took a step towards her. Zora put her arm out to stop him.

“Defended,” said Zora, opening her eyes very wide in amazement, letting the tears course down. “Defended and defended and defended you.”

“Please, Zoor—”

“Against Mom! I took your side!”

Howard took another step forward. “I’m standing here, asking for you to forgive me. It’s real mercy I’m asking for. I know you don’t want to hear my excuses,” said Howard, whispering. “I know you don’t want that.”

“When have you ever,” said Zora clearly, taking another step back from him, “given a fuck about what anyone wants?”

“That’s not fair. I love my family, Zoor.”

“Do you. Do you love Jerome? How could you do this to him?”

Howard’s head shook mutely.

“She’s my age. No—she’s younger than me. You’re fifty-seven years old, Dad,” said Zora and laughed miserably.

Howard covered his face with his hands.

“IT’S SO BORING, DAD. IT’S SO FUCKING OBVIOUS.”



On Beauty is the story of an interracial family living in the university town of Wellington, Massachusetts, whose misadventures in the culture wars—on both sides of the Atlantic—serve to skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political.

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

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