Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Books: Nell Zink's smart and witty 2nd novel Mislaid



"Looking for a brainy yet breezy novel that addresses gender, race, and class issues with levity and has a happy ending? Try Nell Zink’s Mislaid, her second published novel following her critically well-received debut The Wallcreeper in 2014." -- from my New York Journal of Books book review: Mislaid: A Novel by Nell Zink 

"To sum up, Mislaid is an entertaining book worth reading on a plane or train ride to a vacation destination or on a poolside chaise lounge when you get there." -- from my examiner article, Books: Nell Zink's 2nd novel Mislaid is smart and witty


Books: Nell Zink's 2nd novel Mislaid is smart and witty

Seven months after the publication of her critically acclaimed debut The Wallcreeper by indie micro-press Dorothy, Nell Zink’s second novel Mislaid will be published tomorrow by Ecco, an imprint of New York based publisher Harper Collins. In my New York Journal of Books review of Mislaid I praise it as “a funny, entertaining, lightweight highbrow novel . . .” while also noting its lack of depth and character development.

Are levity and depth mutually exclusive? I think not, but to achieve both probably requires more than the three weeks in which Zink claims to have written Mislaid. But rather than dwell on the hypothetical novel Zink or someone else might have written readers should enjoy Mislaid for the smart, witty beach book it is.

LGBTQ readers might also take exception to straight author Zink placing her lesbian and gay male central characters, Peggy and Lee, in a heterosexual marriage, but Mislaid is not only humorous but also an historical novel that begins in 1965. Anyway, sexuality is not either/or but a spectrum as Lee, who had previously only been attracted to other men, discovers when he meets Peggy.

Then there is the novel’s racial aspect. Another reviewer referred to Mislaid as the inverse of Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain whose African-American protagonist passes as white. After fleeing her marriage, Peggy and one of her two children pass as black in a poor, rural, African-American community. The dialogue of the white characters passing as black is nearly all in standard English as is that of their nerdy African-American best friends. To her credit Zink does not resort to Amos and Andy style pseudo-ebonics.

The Wallcreeper also featured a failed marriage, and Zink, who has lived in California, Virginia, New Jersey, Israel, Germany and has been married several times, takes a skeptical view of marriage. Her last marriage was to an Israeli poet, and when it ended 15 years ago she moved from Tel-Aviv to Berlin where, as she told The Guardian’s Hannah Ellis-Petersen, “I could have hot superficial sexual relationships with guys I otherwise ignored. This is so, so key for artistic praxis – frees up incredible amounts of time.” According to an article that appeared several years ago in Psychology Today Tel-Aviv has three single women for every two single men; it’s a terrific place for straight single men, but not so great for straight single women including ones who aren’t marriage minded.

To sum up, Mislaid is an entertaining book worth reading on a plane or train ride to a vacation destination or on a poolside chaise lounge when you get there. For a fuller discussion of the novel read my NYJB review.

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