The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith: The Child

The First Person and Other Stories

Next up in The First Person and Other Stories is The Child, and it is just as amusing as True Short Story! It begins at a Waitrose supermarket where the story’s unnamed narrator – a young woman – goes to do her weekly shopping during her lunch break. The most extraordinary thing happens to her while in the store when she leaves her trolley unattended for a bit to grab some herbs – she returns to find that someone has left their child on her trolley! The narrator describes the baby as the “most embarrassingly beautiful child,” with “very pink and perfectly bow-shaped” lips and big cheeks “like a cupid.” And while she waits for the child’s parent/s to return after realizing their mistake, she imagines how they’d have a good laugh swapping their trolleys before going about their day.

However, the narrator’s cool composure doesn’t last for long as no one comes to claim the baby! Flabbergasted, she wheels the trolley to the Customer Service Desk seeking their help, where a staff representative tells her that no one has reported a missing baby while observing how much the child looks like the narrator! By this time some other shoppers have also surrounded the two, all of them congratulating the narrator for having such a lovely baby, while she keeps on insisting the child is not hers! But who is going to believe her when the baby calls her “Mammuum” with his little fat arms raised in the air! Surely she must be a stressed-out and under-slept new mom?

By this point of the story, I was also beginning to wonder if the baby, in fact, belonged to the narrator! But then the plot becomes clearer once the narrator leaves the supermarket with the baby, and he starts talking. The things he says in his melodious voice are quite obscene. He begins his crude monologue by calling the narrator “a really rubbish driver,” and asking her “are you for instance representative of all women drivers or is it just you among all women who’s so rubbish at driving?” But instead of getting mad at the baby, the narrator becomes smitten with him! Before this, her plan was to abandon the child in a place where he was sure to be found, but impressed by his use of complicated words, the narrator finds herself dreaming of raising the baby as her own, and already “planning how to ensure the child’s later enrollment in one of the area’s better secondary schools.” This was such an unexpected twist in the story. The way the baby manages to spout his sexist, hateful rhetoric and still get a pass by the narrator who is a modern independent woman by all accounts dumbfounded me, although she too runs out of patience with him in the end.

You can find The Child in its entirety here, and I highly recommend reading it. In it, the way Smith tackles how the society puts pressure on women to have children once they hit the child bearing age is nothing short of brilliant! 5 stars!

3 comments

  1. Literary Elephant · · Reply

    I am hoping to read more short story collections this year, and this one sounds incredible. I haven’t read any Ali Smith yet, but I’ve been meaning to… clearly I need to pick this book up. It sounds wonderfully bizarre. Your reviews of these stories are great, I’m totally hooked!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’ve read How to Be Both before, but I didn’t like it much. So I’ve been avoiding reading Autumn and Winter, although their premise interests me. After I’m done with this, I think I’ll be reading them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Literary Elephant · · Reply

        I’ve got a copy of Autumn that I’ve been meaning to pick up too to get me started in Smith’s seasonal quartet, but it just hasn’t been calling to me lately. That’s definitely changed now… and I look forward to your reviews of them!

        Like

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