Nicotine by Nell Zink

nicotinePenny Baker is a recent college grad about to handle her biggest challenges – the death of her father and piecing together the realities of her patchwork family, while making another family with a group of outcast squatters.

Penny’s dad is a charismatic healer who runs a clinic in Brazil specializing in helping ailing people come to terms with dying via psychedelics.  He comes across Penny’s mother Amalia in Colombia, a much younger and vulnerable teenager, “adopts” her, and then eventually marries her.  In the process, he runs off his first wife, mother of his two sons, both of them Amalia’s age or older.

Flash forward to her father’s last agonizing weeks and afterward, when the remaining family discuss how to dispose of their property, in particular a large ramshackle house in Jersey City.  Penny’s older half-brother Matt, a cold-hearted successful businessman, wants Penny to hardball its illegal residents into leaving.

Penny is in that perilous place of post-graduation – jobless and soon to be homeless – so she takes on the challenge, at first.  As she gets to know the residents of the house affectionately called “Nicotine” (a nod to a house-wide addiction to tobacco), Penny begins to see their side of the problem – or solution.  She also falls in love with one of them, a frustratingly sexy asexual bicycle mechanic.

What ensues is a long-winded, funny, bawdy-as-hell novel that I think somebody like Tom Robbins would be proud of.  You will cheer on Penny and her anarchist friends as they counter conventionality and smoke every cigarette in sight.  You will also learn to fear the monster, although I won’t say what it is, just yet.

Just read Nicotine.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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One Response

  1. Dying to read Nell Zink, I’ve heard such good things!

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