‘Mislaid’ by Nell Zink (2015) – 241 pages
‘Mislaid’ is a story about a family but not like any family you or I have ever encountered.
Thus we have our lesbian student Peggy getting pregnant by Stillwater College’s homosexual poet in residence, Lee Fleming. They marry, have two kids, and stay together for 10 years. We can only assume they were temporarily attracted to each other, but later the poet goes back to guys, Peggy drives his car into Stillwater Lake, and she leaves with her daughter but not her son. This all happens in the early pages, and things only get wilder from there.
Nell Zink’s style of writing is quite evocative and suggestive, and her riffs on just about anything are a lot of fun. Here is part of her take on Stillwater College:
“In the 1960s it was a mecca for lesbians, with girls in shorts standing in the reeds to smoke, popping little black leeches with their fingers, risking expulsion for cigarettes and going in the lake.”
Most of these short riffs in ‘Mislaid’ are wild and wonderful. Here is Zink’s take on Lee Fleming, the poet father:
“His parents were wealthy. But he had expectations and an allowance, not money. His father suggested he move to a secluded place, Queer as a three-dollar bill doesn’t matter on posted property. Lee’s father was a pessimist. He imagined muscle-bound teaboys doing bad things to Lee, and he didn’t want passersby to hear the screaming. He offered him the house on the opposite side of Stillwater Lake from the college.”
The first part of ‘Mislaid’ is a riff on how this Lee guy who is attracted only to men wound up as a father. Later Zink explains how the daughter of Lee and a white lesbian student at the college becomes a Negro. This is Virginia after all where if a person has even one drop of Negro blood, they are a Negro.
What better place to look for a phrase which describes a particular novel than within that novel itself? For the novel ‘Mislaid’ I found that appropriate phrase toward the end in “weirdly fascinating”.
I liked the novel much more on the paragraph level than I did at the full plot level. Part of the fun of this book is that it goes all over the place. Part of the problem is that it goes all over the place and could use more coherence. The pace is fast and frenetic and never stops to explain characters’ motivations. This is especially a problem when we get into trippy drug scenes later in the novel. In drug taking there already is a lack of coherence and logic, so I would suggest Zink avoid drug scenes in her future work.
However, I found the wild suggestive style of Nell Zink fun, original and entertaining.