“The Lazy River”
by Zadie Smith
from the December 18 & 25, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

The year is really winding down fast. Here we have the final 2017 issue of The New Yorker, and, with it, their final fiction of the year: a new, and relatively short, piece by Zadie Smith.

I am anxious to see what folks think of this one. It’s mostly an extended exploration of the metaphor of a lazy river as life. Not, to me, particularly interesting. In the January 3, 2011 issue of the magazine, Steven Millhauser published a much stronger story about a young boy on holiday in a river realizing that his life was passing swiftly to its conclusion. I loved it. Not that they are doing the exact same thing, but Millhauser’s handling of a similar metaphor is more profound. Smith’s essay here just isn’t my kind of thing, which I guess has me looking forward to a couple of weeks of relaxation before we see what we get from The New Yorker in 2018!

Liked it? Take a second to support The Mookse and the Gripes on Patreon!
By | 2017-12-11T13:57:07+00:00 December 11th, 2017|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Zadie Smith|Tags: |11 Comments


  1. Eric December 16, 2017 at 6:07 am

    I did think there was one clever thing about this story–how Smith incoculated herself against any criticism by making the themes of the story the same things which one might criticize it for–anything you could say bad about this could be met with “that’s part of the concept!” as a response. Slow, aimless, labored, stiff, seemingly pointless–check, check, check. I’m sure there are a bunch more adjectives I could list, but the joke gets old after a while–which, of course, is part of the concept as well. Rather impressive, in a way. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything actually enjoyable or interesting in this slow, stiff, seemingly pointless story.

  2. Dennis Lang December 16, 2017 at 11:34 am

    I’m always a little skeptical of comments that categorically critique a story as “bad” writing. I suppose mainly because I’m skeptical of anyone here having the qualification to make that categorical claim, beyond a personal opinion that the story for whatever reason just didn’t speak to them. So adjectives are intended to suffice; “slow, aimless, labored….” Since I’ve invariably found the “New Yorker” fiction engaging on some level, often extremely so, I’m asking myself why this one left me so totally cold.

    Would be cool to hear from someone for whom this story did speak. What did Eric and I miss?

  3. David December 18, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    Note to Trevor: No time to relax just yet! The NewYorker published a new short story online today, the one for the magazine with the January 1 cover date. I would assume that they thought putting it online a week early was preferable to having to upload it either on Christmas Day or later than usual.

  4. Trevor December 19, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    David, I cannot seem to find that. Do you have a link or the title of the story?

  5. David December 19, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    HA! I just checked again and The New Yorker has taken down the story. I guess it was published in error because someone forgot it was a skip week. Fortunately for me, I saved the story before they fixed it. I guess the rest of you have to wait until Christmas. Suckers!!! :-)
    For those who are curious, the story is “Whoever Is There, Come on Through” by Colin Barrett. His other stories published in The New Yorker are “The Ways” almost exactly three years ago, “Anhedonia, Here I Come” in 2016, and “The Hairless Are Careless” in the summer of 2017 flash fiction series. He published a book of short stories (Young Skins) in 2013, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Guardian First Book Award in 2014. He has also recenty had a short story and a couple of essays published in Granta. (Saving you the leg work on the intro, Trevor. Merry Christmas!)

  6. Trevor December 19, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Nice! The audio of Barrett reading the story is all there as well. And thanks David for composing the body of my post — Christmas early all around!

  7. mehbe December 20, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Dennis, I don’t know if this will answer your question in any way, but what I got out of this piece (calling it a story seems a stretch) was a specific sense of the stupid directionless futility that many Westerners seem to be feeling in 2017, a kind of failure of the future. And that seems to be the point of it, given what Smith says in the interview. She wants to preserve and communicate what this time feels like.

    It reminded me of a BEK cartoon from a few issues back, where someone was saying, “I thought I would wander around, vaguely forgetting what I was doing, until the Presidency is over.”

    I enjoy much of Smith’s writing, including this piece, because she has a knack for touching on a very particular mental state that closely matches what I am feeling at times. There are no other writers I know who articulate that mood for me the way she does. I don’t always like the feeling very much, but it is nice to know there are others who seem feel it as well.

  8. Greg December 29, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Dennis – I am shocked that even you (Mr. Positive) couldn’t find a bright spot in this story….I never thought I’d see this day! Hee-hee…

    Mehbe – I agree with you completely on your following takeaways:

    “… a specific sense of the stupid directionless futility that many Westerners seem to be feeling in 2017, a kind of failure of the future. And that seems to be the point of it, given what Smith says in the interview. She wants to preserve and communicate what this time feels like.”

    Lastly, I absolutely loved Zadie’s satire on the two teenage girls suntanning and taking pics of themselves. I am sure she enjoyed writing this following sentence in particular:

    “Then their props are gathered: pink flower petals, extravagant cocktails with photogenic umbrellas protruding from them, ice creams (to be photographed but not eaten), and, on one occasion, a book, held only for the duration of the photograph and – though perhaps only I noticed this – upside down.”

  9. Ken January 19, 2018 at 3:40 am

    I’m not sure this is exactly a short story or deserves to be called one either, but I found some merit in it. Certain images–such as the hallucination of the tomatoes or the last of the workers in the river–have purchase with me and there are some ideas here that are interesting. Yet…is this really a story? Isn’t there something more one should do than just veil their political ideas in a very vague narrative?

  10. Greg January 20, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    More and more Ken we are seeing these vignettes being published as ‘stories’…..should we just accept this?

Leave a Reply