‘Nicotine’ by Nell Zink – An Over-The-Top Gross-Out Novel


‘Nicotine’ by Nell Zink   (2016) – 288 pages


e7e56acf-15b3-4e0b-9263-6ffb8841489aimg400I 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. There is a lot of sex in this novel. The sex in ‘Nicotine’ is less than interesting and more than dismal.
  5. 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.
  6. ‘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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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’.


Grade:   D+


4 responses to this post.

  1. I am having a good laugh about this:)
    But oh, isn’t it awful when we learn that despite years of experience, we can still mess up and choose the wrong book, and even worse, persist in reading it?!



    • Hi Lisa,
      This is that after-Christmas doldrum period when they don’t release any new novels and we must rely on ‘best’ lists for 2016. ‘Nicotine’; was on a few ‘best’ lists for whatever reason I don’t know. But things are looking up. Soon I will be reading ‘Autumn’ by Ali Smith and I’ve already started ‘Sudden Death’ by an author named Alvaro Enrigue which so far is wonderful.
      I was severely tempted to quit ‘Nicotine’ before it ended but this was one of those times when I did not have a good novel to replace it.



  2. Too funny! I have never really read anything that has made me think Nell Zink is a writer for me. Your review confirms my suspicions. I do have one title on my e-reader that I picked up on sale once but e-books tend to exist in another dimension for me lately so I forget I own them. Sudden Death is another I’ve debated for entirely different reasons (like do I have to understand tennis to like it?), so I will be curious to hear what you think. It has been getting quite a bit of love from folks I respect. It’s likely one for paperback though.



    • Hi roughghosts,
      I have played very little tennis but am still totally enjoying ‘Sudden Death’ a lot.. Much of it is a spurious history of tennis going back to the Middle Ages containing a lot of questionable-yet-fascinating stories.
      Every year there are a few novels that I just do not like as ‘Nicotine’, and I hope that continues so I can more appreciate the others.



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