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The Gen X Novel

Reading Zadie Smith’s 'The Fraud' as Gen X literature

Reviewing Zadie Smith’s The Fraud for the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine, Adam Kirsch takes stock of Generation X as a literary phenomenon. He finds “Gen X lit” to be composed of two distinct waves, between which Smith is caught. The younger wave, including writers Ben Lerner, Teju Cole, Sheila Heti, and Tao Lin, has formed its ideas about art, culture, and society partly in opposition to predecessors like David Foster Wallace, Elizabeth Wurtzel, and Dave Eggers—who claimed a great moral power for art—and partly in response to the younger millennials, who question whether art has any value at all. Kirsch is joined in this episode by Harper’s deputy editor Jon Baskin to discuss how Smith’s historical fiction operates within this literary lineage, why autofiction came to succeed the confessional memoirs of the Nineties, and what the novel form can do for us.

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September 2023

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