NicotineNicotine by Nell Zink
My rating: 2/5 cats
One StarOne Star

It’s not her gender that’s underrepresented. It’s her species. Like a dog at a party for birds, or a hip-hopper at a party for Pagan bisexuals.

that quote sums up my reaction to this book in a nutshell – i’m a dog at this bird party, not understanding why everyone’s have a good time.

i don’t necessarily need to relate to characters in order to enjoy a book; to see myself represented, but i do need them to interest me. and none of these characters interested me in the least; either as individuals, or when they are broken down into their affiliated groups: hippie healers/shamans with their psychotropic drugs and nudity, capitalistic children of those hippies, consumed with laying claim to things: money, people, real estate, the right to success, pompous millennial squatters with their causes and rigorous commitment to representing every niche group conceivable.

i just didn’t get this book.

in a way, this reminded me a lot of Purity. there’s the obvious similarity in the plot of a young millennial-y woman making her way in the world with her fairly aimless idealism, squatting with people who see themselves as effecting important social changes, drifting into different beds, and many instances of women who are otherwise self-assured and successful being drawn to douchebag men who treat them like shit. and like Purity, there were scenes that made me feel icky: grown man interrupted mid-coitus by a naked 12-year-old girl that leads to anger-salted “playful” nude wrestling, the removal of a young kogi girl from her poverty by a white man 40 years her senior who later marries her, the single-minded attempts to seduce a man claiming to be asexual that get into rape-y territory View Spoiler ».

but while i didn’t like Purity, i at least understood what it was trying to say as a book. with this one, i think i missed the point. i’m not even sure if this is supposed to be funny or in earnest or what. to me, all the characters were annoying, and seemed like caricatures inviting the readers’ scorn, but maybe it’s just me finding millennials exhausting.

She has curly magenta hair and wears a forties-style bathing suit of plum-colored cotton gabardine with fishnet stockings and Chuck Taylors. She looks ageless and possibly about thirty-five. “My parents wanted me to finish high school and I was like fuck you. It’s indoctrination. So I ran away. That’s part of why I’m committed to indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination. Nobody should have their way of life dictated to them.”

“I joined the Navy when I was seventeen,” Rufus says. “That’s when I started learning about oppression.”

“Cool,” Penny says approvingly.

to me, that’s the epitome of a millennial garbage-mind – an adolescent “fuck you” philosophy that views education with suspicion but feels qualified to speak for others on what should be valued. a privileged subset of humanity rejecting their privilege to pay lip service to causes affecting the disenfranchised, who would probably really appreciate that education so casually tossed away. peter pan grown-ups dressing like teenagers.

but maybe that’s just me. the tone is slippery – i’m not sure if we are supposed to be rooting for any of these people at all. it’s not sharp enough to be a biting satire of all of these different kinds of characters, but it isn’t going out of its way to make them sympathetic, either. the tone and the plot are both … wispy. nothing really happens, and when it does, the causation is unformed: people fall in love/obsession with no basis for it, they come and go and leave town and start businesses, and it seems arbitrary and motiveless. which would be fine if it was just the millennial characters, who are kind of defined by their shallow chameleoning and youth and struggles with attention-spans, but it’s not. everyone’s fairly impulsive and the results are frequently neither tragic nor comic, they’re just … flat.

i’ll probably be in the minority here with this, since nell zink is one of those authors all the cool kids like, but i just didn’t have any reaction to this book at all, really. which is rare, indeed.

read my reviews on goodreads

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