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Toward the end of Zadie Smith’s shrewd and entertaining novel, Kiki Simmonds gets into an argument with her husband, Howard Belsey: “All you ever do is rip into everybody else,” she tells him. “You don’t have any beliefs—that’s why you’re scared of people with beliefs.”

Kiki is large, lovely, earthy and African American. Howard is white, British and intellectual, devoted above all to Theory. He teaches art history at a (fictional) liberal arts college outside Boston called Wellington, and to him, as one colleague observes, a rose is not a rose but the “accumulation of cultural and biological constructions circulating around the mutually attracting binary poles of nature/artifice.”


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