Book of the Week: Nicotine – Nell Zink

Zink is a singular voice and one you don’t want to miss. Nicotine is her third book in two years. Her previous two–Wallcreeper and Mislaid–tended to both beguile and flummox critics who alternatively raved about her writing while questioning what she was up to.

The most notable example of this came from Dwight Garner at the NYT who first called it “a minor and misshapen novel from a potentially major voice.” Then he ended up picking it as one of his ten best books of the year, saying “I gave it a mixed review. But I find that Mislaid has stuck with me. Ms. Zink has an interesting mind, and, at its best, Mislaid reads like a Donna Tartt novel if Ms. Tartt had taken a night course in sweet brevity.”

That’s the effect Zink has: she messes with your head. The prose is pure, giddy genius. It’s head-spinning how she can make one image both hilarious and savagely accurate. For instance, consider this description of a group of affluent, aging hippie/boomers at the funeral of their guru:

“There is tacit agreement among Norm’s followers that they make the world a better place by living in it. They don’t change it. They redeem it, through the searching way they live their lives. The cult is populated by realist aesthetes. A cult of personality for those cultivating personalities.”

Ouch. 🙂

So what’s the book about? I’d hold the plot doesn’t really matter that much. (But for the record, it’s about middle class kids living as anarchist squatters in an abandoned NJ house. Oh, and true love.) Zink’s books are much less important for the plots than the social satire and how she sees the world. In that way, she reminds me of Oscar Wilde whose parlor-room dramas like The Importance of Being Earnest are hardly memorable for what happens; they are works of genius because of Wilde’s savage, sharp, eloquent, wit.

Nicotine is an Indie Next Pick Indie. Reviewers have already started raving (see below). More major coverage at on sale: New York Magazine will run a feature; reviews coming in People, the NYTBR, Washington Post, W Magazine, Esquire, GQ, New Republic, Guardian, Elle and O, The Oprah Magazine.

Extraordinary… Get the book for its crackling prose and razor-sharp wit, but ready yourself for its blitzkrieg of startling imagery.”
— Village Voice

 “So what is Nicotine? Social satire? Kooky millennial love story? Heartfelt comic novel pondering identity and idealism?…[W]ho cares? Whatever label it’s given, it belongs on your fall reading list.”
— Chicago Tribune

“There is a recklessness and a freshness to this complex tale that is at its best when its elements of horror and humour collide.”
— The Guardian

A rich, rewarding tale of love, rebirth, and chewing tobacco…Zink does such an incredible job of depicting weirdos as real, smart, vulnerable, complicated people. Social satire with a sharp wit and a big heart.”
Kirkus, (starred review)

“In bold strokes, punchy metaphors, and striking imagery, Zink etches her absurdist vision of modern culture, likening Norm’s hospice to a brothel licensed as a strip club because customers must ask for what they want in code (such as sex at the brothel, or quick, painless death through drugs at the hospice). Scenes of watching a loved one die and anarchists giving more family support than family add a touching chord to this impertinent, mordant portrait of a corroded society badly in need of reclamation.”
— Publishers Weekly

“[Zink] writes with tongue firmly in cheek. Her jaded worldview, leavened by a well-honed sense of the absurd, reveals itself as she skewers millennials and boomers alike for failing to live up to their once tightly held convictions.”
— Library Journal

Nell Zink excels at feel-good novels that, far from sappy, are incredibly smart and laugh-out-loud funny. When recent college graduate Penny Baker inherits her hippie father’s childhood house, she expects to find an abandoned ruin. Instead she finds a house renovated and inhabited by squatters and falls desperately in love with one of them. This does not go over well with her family. This deceptively simple premise allows Zink to come back to some of her favorite themes of family and identity, as well as love, activism and materialism, through the lives of unforgettable characters and hilarious situations. This book is a riot!”
Pierre Camy, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

“In her latest, Nicotine, Zink lends her signature madcappery to the anarchist scene of Jersey City….Like Mislaid, Nicotine is a frenetic hodgepodge of zinging dialog, cheeky dysfunction, and genuinely one-of-a-kind characters, all strung up in a surprisingly traditional and charming narrative web. Nicotine: come for the gourmet freegan cuisine and American Spirits, stay to find out what happens to the bucket monster.”
— Kat Leache, Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN

Nicotine, her third novel in three years, is a stunning testament to the amalgam of bizarre brilliance that is Zink’s prose. She tells us a story about family, community, adulthood, smoker’s rights, sex, death, culture, counterculture, anarchy – truly, I could go on – with impeccable flow and refreshing economy….Zink’s characters are smart, complex, and remarkably striking. I found myself drinking them in, absorbing their lives – their stories, from start to finish.”
Tara Bagnola, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

“If Christopher Moore had written City on Fire, the result might have been Nicotine: whip-smart, urban, surreal, modern, with a perfect balance between funny and dark. Like The Nest on acid, it’s centered around a family’s inheritance, as Penny Baker endures her father’s death, only to be summarily evicted from her apartment because it was in his name. She seeks out his childhood home in New Jersey and finds it occupied by squatters. As she befriends them, her life and the lives of her remaining family take unexpected twists and turns.”
Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

Nicotine (9780062441706) by Nell Zink. $26.99 hardcover. 10/4/16 on sale.

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