Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Nicotine - Nell Zink

Nell Zink

The author of Mislaid returns with a fierce and audaciously funny novel of families—both the ones we’re born into and the ones we create—a story of obsession, idealism, and ownership, centered around a young woman who inherits her bohemian late father's childhood home

Recent business school graduate Penny Baker has rebelled against her family her whole life—by being the conventional one. Her mother, Amalia, was a member of a South American tribe called the Kogi; her much older father, Norm, long ago attained cult-like deity status among a certain cohort of aging hippies while operating a psychedelic “healing center.” And she’s never felt particularly close to her much older half-brothers from Norm’s previous marriage—one wickedly charming and obscenely rich (but mostly just wicked), one a photographer on a distant tropical island.

But all that changes when her father dies, and Penny inherits his childhood home in New Jersey. She goes to investigate the property and finds it not overgrown and abandoned, but rather occupied by a group of friendly anarchist squatters whom she finds unexpectedly charming, and who have renamed the property Nicotine. The Nicotine residents (united in defense of smokers’ rights) possess the type of passion and fervor Penny feels she’s desperately lacking, and the other squatter houses in the neighborhood provide a sense of community she has never felt before. She soon moves into a nearby residence, becoming enmeshed in the political fervor and commitment of her fellow squatters.

As the Baker family’s lives begin to converge around the fate of the house now called Nicotine, Penny grows ever bolder and more desperate to protect it—and its residents—until a fateful night when a reckless confrontation between her old family and her new one changes everything.

Nell Zink exquisitely captures the clash between Baby-Boomer idealism and Millennial pragmatism, between the have-nots and want-mores, in a riotous yet tender novel that brilliantly encapsulates our time.

Please Pass The Books Review:

Nell Zink doesn't tell stories that everyone is going to love (who does?), but her unique, no BS approach to subjects that are uncommon, brazen, and really effin' weird is -seriously- on point. Nicotine is the story of Penny, the "normal" one in her bohemian family. When her father dies, he leaves her his childhood home. Overrun by a mishmash medley of squatters, the house has been renamed Nicotine, and Penny is soon caught up in life amongst the group of settlers.

In typical Zink style, there are some bizarre, some very uncomfortable, and some downright crude moments woven through Nicotine. If you can handle it, you'll find thoroughly developed characters (even if you don't like them) and intensely layered storytelling by a master of the craft. This is one of those novels that you're either going to love or hate, and I happen to fall within the former.


I'd like to thank Goodreads Giveaways and the publisher, Fourth Estate, for providing an advance review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which this certainly is.

Born in California in 1964, Nell Zink was raised in rural Virginia, a setting she draws on in her
second novel, Mislaid. She attended Stuart Hall School and the College of William and Mary. In 1993, while living in West Philadelphia, Zink founded a zine called Animal Review, which ran until 1997.

Zink has worked as a secretary at Colgate-Palmolive and as a technical writer in Tel Aviv. She moved to Germany in May 2000, completing a PhD in Media Studies from the University of Tübingen. Zink has been married twice, to US citizen Benjamin Alexander Burck and to Israeli composer and poet Zohar Eitan.

After 15 years writing fiction exclusively for a single pen pal, the Israeli postmodernist Avner Shats, Zink caught the attention of Jonathan Franzen. The two writers began a correspondence.

In early 2012, Zink sent Franzen her collected manuscripts. Franzen tried unsuccessfully to interest publishers in her 1998 novel. It was Franzen’s agent who ultimately negotiated a six-figure publishing deal for Zink’s Mislaid, a novel she has described as “agent bait”.

The Wallcreeper was published independently in the US in 2014 and named one of 100 Notable Books of 2014 by The New York Times. Zink lives in Bad Belzig, Germany.

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