A rich, rewarding tale of love, rebirth, and chewing tobacco from the author of Mislaid (2015) and The Wallcreeper (2014).
When we first meet Penny, she’s 12, naked, and smoking a cigarette in her father’s sweat lodge in upstate New York. Eleven years later, she’s an unemployed business school graduate sitting in her dying father’s New Jersey hospital room. This loss devastates Penny in all the usual ways, and Zink’s depictions of grief and—especially—the strange state of waiting for someone to die are honest and real and occasionally lovely. In one especially heartbreaking scene, Penny realizes that, the closer he gets to death, the less she and Norm have in common. But then: “The strength and courage they desire—and lack, both of them—are the strength and courage never to see each other again. Fear is something they have in common.” This level of self-awareness is one of Penny’s finest qualities as a protagonist. The daughter of a Jewish shamanistic healer and an indigenous Colombian orphan, Penny knows she’s unusual. But she also accepts that being unusual isn’t all that strange, which is why she finds a new family when she sets out to reclaim her father’s ancestral home in Jersey City. Thrown together by the marginalization of tobacco users, the residents of Nicotine—the squat occupying the house where Norm grew up—are outré outsiders even in the outsider realm of activists and agitators. Penny is immediately smitten with the very cute and avowedly asexual Rob. When Penny’s sociopathic half brother, Matt, becomes obsessed with another occupant—a polyamorous Kurdish poet named Jazz—they form an untenable tangle of relationships that can only end in destruction. The resulting disaster is spellbinding, but even the quiet moments here are delightful because Zink does such an incredible job of depicting weirdos as real, smart, vulnerable, complicated people.
Social satire with a sharp wit and a big heart.