Since I began drafting this post, @NellZink on Twitter is no more. These DMs, screen-shots taken just before they went poof, are even more precious now. For those not in the know, Nell Zink wrote breakout novel The Wallcreeper (2014), National Book Award longlisted Mislaid (2015), and has a new novel, Nicotine, due out this fall.
I’ve had a couple of exciting Twitter moments. The first was figuring out how Twitter actually works in 2010. In 2011, I coined a hashtag that’s still in use. In 2012, a celebrity replied to me for the first time (J to the Roc). Since then, I’ve chatted with many authors, of course. But none of these moments compare to receiving an unexpected DM from Nell Zink.
@NellZink doesn’t have the blue check mark, but her profile is pretty on-brand: Goethe quoted in her bio, sparkly-blue-bird-fascinator in her profile pic, and the best part, her background pic, in which she gazes adoringly at a statue of Charles Dickens, side by side with Little Nell.
I don’t have a handle on her Twitter M.O. She deletes many of her tweets and pretty much all of her @ replies, only follows a handful of German accounts, and she likes, but never retweets, praise for her novels. But she’s out there, searching. If you tweet about her or Jonathan Franzen, as I am wont to do, you might just hear from her. I caught her eye with a silly tweet about JFranz sex scenes.
I won’t reveal the content of the DMs we exchanged, not because there was anything racy or controversial, but because that would be rude. I will reveal that it was I who stopped replying, and I feel awful about it, but the pressure was getting to me. Each morning of that magical week in August, I had to think of something intelligent to say to Nell Zink. I couldn’t hack it. Forgive me.
Okay, one thing: she taught me the phrase “O tempora, o mores!” which is a fancy way to say “kids these days.” This was in reference to Fifty Shades of Grey. Also, she read my review of The Wallcreeper and said it was “cute.”
When I worked up the nerve to get back in touch, Nell was kind enough to answer a few questions in honour of Franzen in February. She asked me to stress that this interview was conducted in Twitter DMs, as she is known for disliking email interviews and would like to keep it that way.
@LauraTFrey: You and Mr. Franzen are champions of each other’s work, but do you influence each other? Do you think you influenced Purity, and did he influence Nicotine?
@NellZink: He’s the hero of NICOTINE (in code), but I don’t think I influenced PURITY because he doesn’t pay that much attention.
@LauraTFrey: Will he blurb Nicotine? I’d love to see your blurb on one of his books…
@NellZink: He didn’t blurb any of my books; he blurbed me as a writer (as a way of getting around his refusal to write blurbs). MISLAID didn’t have blurbs – it had quotes from rave reviews of THE WALLCREEPER. Which is different and better.
@LauraTFrey: You said in your n+1 review of Purity that you hate most novels. Do you mean modern novels? Do you keep trying/reading or have you given up?
@NellZink: I’m picky, but I find good things to read fairly often. The odds that any given galley will float my boat are apparently so poor that I’ve started telling editors not to bother. Either that or people have a strange idea of what I might like.
I think this novel would have worked better as a Twitter account.
Settle down, that’s not an insult! I love Twitter. I love comedy on Twitter. I love “weird twitter.” I love how well exaggeration works when you’re limited in other ways, say, to 140 characters. This novel is weird and full of exaggerations. It’s funny. But at 150 pages (in the ARC, anyway) it felt a little thin.
There are a couple of reasons I had Twitter in mind while reading this book:
- The author was profiled by University of Windsor and mentions that she’s writing a novel “which will “ravenously consume a variety of forms inherent in web-based composition in an attempt to capture the experience of living and reading in the digital world.” This piqued my interest, because a pet peeve of mine is when contemporary stories either ignore digital communications or create improbably situations to avoid dealing with them.
- Twitter is mentioned a few times in a book, but more generally, Adams plays with different narrative forms, like memoir, stand-up comedy, self-help, and choose-your-own-adventure. Taken together, it’s kind of satirizing what Twitter is today. Think about those “Twitter personality” people, you know, the ones with thousands of followers and dozens of tweets per day. They probably embody those types of writing too.
- You can easily dip in and out of this book, but you’ll want to keep going. It’s kind of like finding a Twitter account that’s all gold, so you go to their page and read all their tweets from the past six months in one sitting.
The story is reminiscent of Ali Bryan’s Roost: a bereaved single mother deals with the ridiculousness of parenthood and eventually gets their shit together. But where Bryan balanced the laughs with many poignant and uncomfortable moments, Adams stays closer to the slapstick side of things. I was left wanting more about the relationships – more about Carrie’s mom, her boyfriend, and her daughter. Not that I minded being in Carrie’s head, I quite enjoyed her cynicism and off-kilter humour, but I wasn’t that invested in her.
If you’re a regular reader here, you know that my genre kryptonite (TM Book Riot) is teen pregnancy. I appreciate stories that reminds us that there are more than three possible outcomes (1. Abortion 2. Adoption 3. Give up your dreams and become a mom.) Carrie’s mother plays a very active role in raising her granddaughter, allowing Carrie to be both a mom and a typical University student all at once. Carrie’s breakdown probably has something to do with Carrie trying to integrate her outward and “teenage mom” selves and failing without the bridge her mom provided.
I had a hard time rating this book. I liked it, but I don’t know if I’d recommend it because I don’t think a traditional novel was the best vehicle for what Adams wanted to say. I got nothing against novellas (I dedicate a whole month to them!) but this book is marketed and priced as a novel, and it wasn’t quite what I expected. I easily read it in a day. The book was featured on TLC blog tours, and the reviews are very interesting – some readers “get it” right away and love it, and some hate it. I’m somewhere in between.
When I say this book could have worked as (or with) a Twitter account, here are some examples of what I mean. Please follow all these women immediately, and give this book a try, too. Let me know what you think.
@MortimusGerbil for the absurdity of parenting:
@officialbuup for the absuridity of working in an office:
@smickable for the absurdity of dating among other things:
Things You’ve Inherited From Your Mother by Hollie Adams is published by NeWest Press, who kindly gave me a copy to review. It’s available now. Check it out on Goodreads.