Tuesday, November 6, 2012

the last book I ever read (Zadie Smith's NW, excerpt six)

from NW by Zadie Smith:

Natalie Blake's clients called at inappropriate times. They lied. They were usually late for court, rarely wore what they had been advised to wear and refused perfectly sensible plea deals. Occasionally they threatened her life. In her first six months at RSN, three of her clients were young men who "went Brayton," although they were much younger than Natalie Blake herself. This caused her to wonder if the school had gone downhill--further downhill. She snatched lunch from the jerk place opposite McDonald's, sat on a high stool and had trouble keeping the oil off her suit. Pattie, dish dumpling and a can of ginger beer, most days. She tried to vary this menu, but at the counter any spirit of adventure abandoned her. A long-term plan existed to meet Marcia and Marcia's sister Irene, who lived nearby, for lunch, but this fantasy appointment, with its two hours of idle time and no need to read briefs, never seemed to arrive, and soon enough Natalie Blake understood that it never would. Fairly often she saw her cousin Tonya on Harlesden high street. On these occasions--despite her new status as a big lawyer lady--she experienced the same feelings of insecurity and inadequacy Tonya had compelled in her when they were children. This afternoon Tonya wore sweatpants with HONEY written across the posterior and a close-fitting denim waistcoat with a yellow bra underneath. Her fringe was purple, the hoop of her earrings brushed her shoulders. Her platform heels were read and five inches high. Despite the toddler and the baby in her double buggy Tonya retained the proportions of a super-heroine in a comic book. Natalie meanwhile was sadly "margar," as the Jamaicans say. To white people this translates as "skinny" or "athletic," and is widely considered to be a positive value. For Natalie it meant ultimately shapeless, a blank. Tonya's skin was never ashy but always silky and gorgeous and she was not prone to the harsh pink acne that sometimes broke out across Natalie's forehead, and was present today. Where Natalie's teeth were small and gray, Tonya's were huge, white, even, and presently on display in a giant smile. As Tonya approached, Natalie was sure she, Natalie, had dumpling oil round her mouth. But perhaps all this displacement of anxiety into the physical realm was a feminine way of simplifying a far deeper and more insoluble difference, for Natalie believed Tonya had a gift for living and Natalie herself did not seem to have this gift.

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