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MISLAID by Nell Zink


by Nell Zink

Pub Date: May 19th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-236477-7
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

New novel from the critically acclaimed author of The Wallcreeper (2014).

It’s 1965. Peggy Vaillaincourt is a first-year student at a tiny women’s college in Virginia. The fact that she’s a lesbian doesn’t stop her from falling into an intensely physical affair with Lee Fleming, Stillwater College’s most famous—and most famously gay—faculty member. Their relationship leads to a pregnancy. This pregnancy leads to marriage, and the marriage leads to another pregnancy. Eventually, Peggy leaves, taking her daughter but not her son. And, as she starts her new life, Peggy decides to pass as black. This is an ambitious premise, one that seems poised for an interrogation of race, sexuality, and social class. What Zink delivers is…not much of anything. The novel reads more like an outline for a story than the story itself. To cite just one example: “She was feeling new feelings, emotional and physical, new pains and longings, and she couldn’t make notes…but she kept careful track of them, mentally.” Zink offers no description of the precise nature of these “pains and longings.” She merely mentions that they exist, which, given the context, could probably go without saying. It would be surprising if Peggy’s discovery of sex—with a man, no less—didn’t provoke “new feelings.” This is typical of the novel as a whole. It’s not necessary, of course, for a protagonist to be introspective and insightful, but it’s a problem when the author herself seems not terribly interested in her creation. Zink’s lack of curiosity about her characters and the connections between them seems especially odd because notions of identity—how we see ourselves, how others see us—are such a significant feature of her very baroque plot.

A promising premise rendered in dispirited, disappointing prose.