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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “‘The First Person’ dreamlike, confusing”

    Ali Smith

    The First Person and Other Stories

    Anchor Books

    Paperback — 224 pages — $14.95

    Grade: C-

    You know in dreams how nothing makes sense, including the presentation of what’s there, but somehow the residual feeling you wake up with matters? Like something bigger turned a handful of quirky, discrete events — discussion of a lover’s hooves, meeting your 14-year-old self — into a solid story. In that way, Ali Smith’s collection of short fiction “”The First Person and Other Stories”” functions like a long night’s sleep.

    It’s not just that the stories are surreal, taking material from the perceptual flux of the everyday and subverting it, stretching the literal for all it’s worth, but also that they make meaning out of a distinct lack of meaning in a way that raises the question: “”Well, OK, you found a baby in a shopping cart, a misdelivered package on your doorstep one sick day, but so what?””

    Smith’s use of a distinctive yet simple narrative voice forms her style absolutely and tags each story as her own, but also manages to confuse. A lack of quotation marks and an affinity for repetition — sometimes in the form of parallel structure, more often just in dialogue — make the stories unnecessarily hard to follow at points.

    This occasional difficulty is only augmented by Smith’s British diction, spelling and word choice. However, the fact that the dialogue sounds surprisingly like “”Harry Potter”” at times and that talk of the pub briefly disorients the reader is a good sign; that the American reader can, for the most part, envision the stories taking place in America speaks to the universality of life’s strangeness and the collection’s ability to hit that feeling home.

    There is an element outside of the challenges of style and the satisfying cohesive thread that adds another dimension to Smith’s collection. As the title suggests, this element is her incorporation of her own brand of Ars Poetica, an emphasis on narration and the occasional dissertation on rhetorical devices themselves.

    This self-consciousness only strengthens the reader’s sense that what was written was strictly controlled, despite the stream-of-consciousness motif. In the end, it is this quality of self-awareness, in combination with the overt trickiness of the words at times, that overpowers the levity of the content, weighs down the excellent poetic leaps and backs Smith’s beautifully expressive take on the humanity which forgets its children in shopping carts into a convoluted corner.

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