‘The Lazy River’ by Zadie Smith

I read this right after breakfast during a MacDowell residency, and it blew my mind at the time. There is such skill in how the anger and moral outrage is contained, such a careful, precise and measured approach to how and when that anger is expressed – but it is there, I did feel it. Maybe in the lines: 

Down below, the Lazy River runs, a neon blue, a crazy blue, a Facebook blue. In it stands a fully clothed man armed with a long mop—he is being held in place by another man, who grips him by the waist, so that the first man may angle his mop and position himself against the strong yet somniferous current and clean whatever scum we have left of ourselves off the sides. 

From this story, I feel I really learned from how to keep the reader’s attention to submerged meanings, awareness of ostensibly peripheral experiences, actually right at the forefront – to keep the reader tense and vigilant. I also was more aware of the language of the story, its old-fashioned elocution and elegance, in comparison with a lot of other work I read, and was glad for it. 

First published in The New Yorker, Dec 11 2017, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in Grand Union, Hamish Hamilton, 2019