This book is…a doozie. That is said as highest praise. I haven’t been writing book reviews in quite some time, and when I picked this one up I told myself, you are going to review this after you are done reading it. After about a hundred pages, I began to regret telling myself that. And not because it was bad! In fact, it is quite the opposite, it’s a spectacular read! Go grab a copy.
The reason I regretted using this book to restart my review blog was because, what the hell am I supposed to write about White Teeth? What is it about? How do I answer a question like that with any clarity, when the book is about everything! Race relations, socioeconomic class division , religion, sex, family dynamics, war, genetic experimentation! It’s all here, crammed into less than 500 pages, and it is all beautifully written.
Tertiary to the themes bustling about this novel is the Chalfen family. This is the well-to-do, middle class family that I can identify with because they are so dreadfully and stereotypically…white. Note that I say stereotypical, not hackneyed. Zadie Smith paints with a rather broad brush that somehow manages to highlight some of the most unflattering details of the upper middle class suburbanites that I have dwelled among throughout my entire life.
“They reffered to themselves as nouns, verbs, and occasioanlly adjectives: It’s the Chalfen way, And then he came out with a real Chalfenism, He’s Chalfening again, We need to be a bit more Chalfenist about this.”
As I read this particular passage, my face flushed. I am by no means embarrassed by my close knit family dynamic, but this was so accurate that I found it uncomfortable, especially as, in the context of this book, “Chalfenism” isn’t exactly a good thing.
But the Chalfean family is so much more than a stereotypically white family. Something so much worse. A white family that thinks they have something to give everyone in the because they are so white, that they have everything figured out, and that the world really should convert to Chalfensim, because it really is the best way to live. As is the case in similar, nonfiction examples of this, they are just as, if not more, screwed up than their lower class counterparts, the Iqbal family (a family composed of Indian Islamists) and the Jones family (a blended family of a father [white/english] a mother [a Jamaican immigrant] and their bi-racial daughter).
The interactions between these families would turn the stomach of any reader. They are so ham handed and awkward that I had to put the book down at certain points. The Chalfen family is terrible for the most part, but especially the mother, Joyce. Her insertion of herself into the children of these families lives are not even slightly well intentioned, and at times come off as vaguely racist. For example the assumption she voices to Irie Jones of black teenage girls mating and dating habits. Keep in mind, Irie herself is a black teenage girl. I’m gagging just thinking about it.
I couldn’t recommend this book more highly, despite my failure to really sum it up. I try to keep these reviews short and to the point, but there just too many points to make about this book. I think the best way to describe White Teeth would be hearty. It is full, and a reader is sure to satiate their appetite with this book.