‘Two Men Arrive In A Village’ by Zadie Smith

Two Men Arrive In A Village by Zadie Smith, 2016

The magic trick:

Writing with total authority from the point of view of someone who is an expert in such experiences as those being described in the story

I am so scared to write these days. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I just have no right, no authority, no confidence.

Zadie Smith has all three of things in ridiculous quantities. Or at least so it seems. She writes like she does in this story. The narrative voice is an odd mix here. It’s not over-the-top confident. But it certainly is authoritative, presenting not so much a specific event as the kind of thing that happens from the point of view of an expert in such experiences. The level of confidence an author must have to pull this off just boggles the mind. And that’s quite a trick on Smith’s part.

The selection:

The two men like to arrive in this manner, with a more or less friendly greeting, and this might remind us of the fact that all humans, no matter what they do, like very much to be liked, even if it’s for only an hour or so before they are feared or hated—or maybe it would be better to say that they like the fear that they inspire to be leavened with other things, such as desire or curiosity, even if, in the final analysis, fear is always the greater part of what they want. Food is cooked for them. We offer to make them food or else they demand it, depending. At other times, on the fourteenth floor of a derelict apartment building covered in snow—in which a village lives vertically—the two men will squeeze onto a family’s sofa, in front of their television, and watch the new government’s broadcast, the new government they have just established by coup, and the two men will laugh at their new leader, marching up and down the parade ground in that stupid hat, and as they laugh they will hold the oldest girl watching television by her shoulder, in a supposedly comradely manner but a little too tightly, while she weeps. (“Aren’t we friends?” the tall, dim man will ask her. “Aren’t we all friends here?”)

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