Saturday, 28 April 2018

{Review by STELLA}

Nell Zink is an author who keeps you guessing and convinces you that anything is possible in the strange, yet oh-so-normal, world of a Zink novel. In Mislaid, a gay professor and a young lesbian student form a relationship, get married and have two children. When Peggy, the wife, runs away with her daughter to a remote part of Virginia, she assumes a new identity and gives herself an African-American heritage despite her and her daughter being white. This is Nell Zink writing the ‘great American family saga’ her way. Nicotine is a novel about Penny - an unemployed grad student, the daughter of a Jewish shaman named Norm and successful corporate banker step-mom Amalia, a Kogi native rescued from poverty in South America - tasked to remove squatters from a property the family own. Nicotine is a hilarious send-up of slacker privilege and modern spirituality with a nicotine-fueled hedonism. The postmodern fictionPrivate Novelist is the latest in my Zink reads and this takes a step further into the uncertain world of Nellness. Apparently written prior to her first published work, it has its roots in the written exchanges between two authors, Nell Zink (or an author called 'Nell Zink') and Israeli author, Anver Shats, who the author claims to have met in Tel Aviv in 1997.  Avner Shats mostly wrote in Hebrew, a language Zink could not read, yet she ‘translated’ his novella, and in Private Novelist this appears as the work entitled ‘Sailing Towards the Sunset by Avner Shats’. The other story, 'European Story for Avner Shats', is written by Zink. Playing with the concept of the novel, the ‘conversation’ between two writers, and the idea of translation, Zink keeps you in limbo. Is Shats real? - I can hardly believe he is, although a Wikipedia search pops him up with a brief resume and links to universities and prizes (deeper searches wend their way to the unknown - the unsure). This playful interaction with her reader is pure Zink and Private Novelist is extremely funny and satisfyingly puzzling. It’s also a razor-sharp analysis of the novel and the tools we use as a reader (and writer) to interpret our texts. Nell Zink, championed by Jonathan Franzen, had her first novel, Wallcreeper, published by independent press Dorothy, and received considerable attention for that and for Mislaid, which was long-listed for the National Book Award.  

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