‘Nicotine’ by Nell Zink (2016) – 288 pages
I did not like ‘Nicotine’ very much. That is unusual because I had been on a roll lately with my reading. It seemed every book I had recently read, I have really enjoyed. They all got grades of B+, A-, A. I thought maybe I had reached the point where my selection process was so well-tuned I only picked books that were just right for me. But today I see I was only fooling myself. After so many wonderful books, I picked one, ‘Nicotine’, which I did not appreciate very much at all after reading it. I am actually quite happy about that, because my reading ship has finally righted itself after nearly tipping over from all the great novels.
I can tell that Nell Zink really doesn’t care whether or not I liked her novel. Otherwise she would not have called it ‘Nicotine’.
What did I not like about ‘Nicotine’? Let me count the ways.
- In the first few pages I was subjected to a quasi-incest scene that served no purpose in the plot of the novel other than to establish that this was going to be a wild and crazy ride.
- Then we get the deathbed scene of the father Ned. I know that there are horrible things involving blood, snot, and infection that occur on the deathbed, but I don’t need to be subjected to many pages of graphic gruesome detail. I suppose this passes for gross-out humor in this ostensibly comic novel. Later there is a shit storm in an apartment house. Ha, Ha.
- The father Ned is a shaman who has a large group of hippie-like people who come to dance at his funeral. The career path of shaman does not interest me at all.
- There is a lot of sex in this novel. The sex in ‘Nicotine’ is less than interesting and more than dismal.
- The author Nell Zink has taken to heart the literary advice ‘Show, Not Tell’, and thus nearly everything is shown, not described or explained. Thus the characters are under-developed.
- ‘Nicotine’ contains some of the worst dialogue I have ever come across in the sense that it is inelegant and boring. In good dialogue the characters are so well differentiated that we can tell who is talking just by their words. Here everyone speaks in the same clumsy manner so it is difficult to know or care who is speaking at any given time.
- By making them out to be weird inconsequential spoiled idiots and anarchist squatters, Zink discredits those who believe in social justice. Although it pretends not to be, ‘Nicotine’ is a very right-wing novel, a story for Trump supporters.
- The characters in ‘Nicotine’ are so sophisticated, so jaded, so disgusting, this farm boy could not identify with them at all. It was like they were from a different planet from the one I inhabit. These people mostly seem to all be looking for a way to get out of their manic-depressive disorder by getting transgender surgery.
Nell Zink claims it only takes her three weeks to write a whole novel. I am surprised it took her that long to write ‘Nicotine’.