Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction
Publisher: 4th Estate
Length: 176 Pages
Date(s) Read: May 16, 2019 – May 21, 2019
Date Published: March 10, 2016
Nell Zink’s debut novel follows a downwardly mobile secretary from Philadelphia who marries an ambitious soon-to-be-expat pharmaceutical researcher in hopes that she will never work again. They end up in Germany, where it turns out that her new husband is tougher, sneakier, more sincere, more contradictory, and smarter than she is; she’d naturally thought it was impossible. Life becomes complicated with affairs, birding, and eco-terrorism. Bad things happen, yet they stagger through, clinging to each other from a safe distance.
My Rating: ★★★☆☆
Going into this book, all I knew about it was that it was “weird, but good” (actual quote from my friend who had to read it for grad school, and said I should, too). My friend was mostly right about that. It was a weird little book, and it wasn’t bad, but I remember putting the book down and not knowing whether I liked it and now, all these weeks later, I’m still unsure of my opinion as to whether it was ‘good.’ I’ve given it three stars, which isn’t a bad rating, but it isn’t an exceptionally ‘good’ rating either. I’m still not sure whether it’s the right rating for this book.
The worst part about this book was, there was no point to it. I don’t generally care whether a book has a great plot as long as it has very solid characters, but the only character with any solidity is the narrator and to a far lesser extent her husband. And the relationship between them constantly annoyed me. It’s clear our narrator is married to the idea of needing a man around constantly so she never has to work. What’s unclear is how these two ended up together because it certainly doesn’t seem to be love, or even money. She simply seems to stay with him because he won’t make her get a job, and she really does not want a job.
The ending to this book was the worst part to all of that, though I won’t spoil what happens. The event there came so abruptly that I had to re-read the passage several times as I was so sure I missed something.
Still, there were some interesting pieces to the book. The settings were fun to lose myself in, in a sleepy sort of way, and there was a lot of information about birds that I’d never have known without reading this book. (Honestly I didn’t even know a wallcreeper was a type of bird going into this.) And though the relationship between the narrator and her husband constantly annoyed me for its substance, I thought the way it was portrayed was very well done. The way the narrator has affairs as if it’s no big deal, and her husband has affairs too and he also doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal, paints a very foreign to myself yet intriguing relationship.
I personally don’t condone cheating, and in a lot of books it just annoys me when two characters cheat or emotionally cheat, especially if we’re supposed to be rooting for them. Here, though, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be rooting for anyone, it was a just told matter-of-factly, and I greatly appreciated that.
But I’m still not sure whether I actually liked this book.