When Alex-Li Tandem is 12 years old, his father takes him and his friends Adam and Rubinfine to a wrestling match at the Albert Hall in London. By the end of the evening, the pivotal events of Alex-Li's youth have occurred: he has met Joseph Klein, a boy whose fascination with autographs proves infectious; his friendships with Adam and Rubinfine are cemented; and his father has dropped dead. This is enough action for an entire book, and in fact things slow down dramatically after page 35 of Zadie Smith's sophomore novel The Autograph Man
. When we meet Alex again, he is a grown man, an autograph dealer and devoted slacker, suffering the physical and spiritual after-effects of a three-day romance with a drug called "Superstar." While under its malign influence, Alex has managed to wreck his sports car, alienate his girlfriend Esther, and--possibly--forge the rare autograph of his idol, the 1950s movie star Kitty Alexander. Will his friends save him from the embarrassment of trying to sell this suspect autograph? Will they pull him together in time to perform Kaddish on the 15th anniversary of his father's death? Although not as enthralling or politically resonant as White Teeth
, Smith's hallowed debut, The Autograph Man
amply demonstrates her ability to juggle several main characters, several themes, and a host of plots and subplots, with the occasional purely comic episode thrown up in the air beside them like a chainsaw or a cheesecake. Readers will want to step away to a safe distance during the chaotic final scenes. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
Smith's eagerly awaited second novel begins with a bang, but rapidly loses momentum, slipping from tragicomedy to rather overdetermined farce. The introductory set piece is panoramically sock-o in the best Martin Amis tradition, taking us from Doctor Li-Jin Tandem's outing with his son's friends to see a wrestling match in Albert Hall to his sudden death from a massive stroke. Fifteen years to the week later, Li-Jin's son, Alex, is being pressed by his friends, Adams Jacobs and Joseph Klein, to say Kaddish for his dad. Alex is an autograph trader and obsessive egotist. Over the course of the week, he wrecks his car on an acid trip, goes to New York in quest of the legendary retired actress Kitty Alexander, frees her from her mad manager (who promptly announces her death to the papers, thus inflating the value of her signature) and gets his girlfriend Esther, Adam's sister, angry enough that she suspends their relationship. Smith paints portraits of a very multiculti Judaism: Adam, for instance, is a black Jew, while Alex is a disbelieving Chinese one. Adam's kabbalistic interests are supposed to operate in Smith's text the way Homer's poem operated in Ulysses, giving it a mythic dimension, but the big theme of Jewishness feels tacked on, like a marquee advertising a former attraction. Smith's pen portraits of the shabby, yobbish autograph trading circle are intermittently funny, but her prose is so busy being clever that the laughter never builds. This is disappointing but, even with its faults, the novel points to a literary talent of a high order.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.