After years spent in the city, working with his business partner Randy on Bränd media, Ethan finds himself in the quiet, closed-off town of Starkfield. His wife Zenobia is perpetually distracted by the swirling #MeToo politics, the Kavanaugh hearings, and her duties to the feminist activism group she formed: All Them Witches. Ethan finds himself caught between their regular meetings at his home and the battle to get his livewire daughter Alex to sleep.
But the new, stilted rhythm of his life is interrupted when he receives a panicked message. Accusations. Against Randy. A slew of them. And Ethan is abruptly forced to question everything: his past, his future, his marriage, and what he values most.
Unrelenting in its satire, The Smash-up jolts you into the twisted psyche of successful brand advertising, where historic exploitation is only ever a panicked phone-call away. With magnetic energy and doses of comic wit, Benjamin creates a world of social media algorithms, extreme polarization, the collapsing of identity into tweet-sized spaces, and the spectre of violence that can be found even in the quietest places.
I have really enjoyed reading this book as part of a buddy read organised by the wonderful riverrun books. Thanks so much to Ana and all of the team at riverrun/Quercus for running what I think are the best book chats on Twitter, and for my beautiful hardback copy of this book.
The Smash-Up is a hyper-modern book, sharp and spiky and utterly uncompromising in its refusal to take the easy road. Everything is complicated and messy and dusted with layers of ambiguity, from Zo’s activism to Ethan’s ‘good guy’ status. It reminded me a lot of Natasha Randall’s Love Orange (another riverrun delight, and my first buddy read experience), which I said in my review seemed to represent a new way of writing fiction. I think The Smash-Up, though different in many ways to Randall’s book, is part of that same movement towards something exciting and new, an ultra-modern mode of fiction that acknowledges the interconnectedness of family life, politics, social media, violence – everything crashing together and overloading our systems. The ‘domestic space’ no longer exists outside of politics, if it ever really did, and our lives are played out in a kind of public performance that makes the idea of a ‘private life’ seem anachronistic.
Strange to think that if I was writing this review a week ago, I would still be saying how timely it is, how it captures our era of misinformation and disillusionment perfectly, but I would probably be able to write it without tears in my eyes and anger in my heart. It is a very odd experience when the book you are reading, which is already highly relevant and absolutely on point about the issues of modern society and its mad, messy, confusing chaos, becomes more and more impactful by the hour as the news of the past week rolls in. By the end of this book, I was so deeply immersed in the truth of what Benjamin shows us that I was crying both with sadness and with relief that my feelings could have found such a corollary in fiction. If ever there was a book to read RIGHT NOW, this is it.
It is quite hard for me to articulate my thoughts on this book as I have only just finished it, and I know that the final buddy read tonight will help me corral my scattered ideas. I also think this is definitely a book that warrants re-reading – in fact, the geek in me would love to write an essay on The Smash-Up and Love Orange, so perhaps, lucky blog readers, there will be further ramblings from me in the future! For now, let me say that if you want to read a novel that just about sums up what it is to live in the world today, that probes the difficult questions and makes your brain whirr, that is more than just thought-provoking but rather thought-agitating, The Smash-Up will not disappoint. I’m already looking forward to rereading it.
The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin is out now from riverrun books and is available to purchase here.