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Nicotine

Cover of Nicotine

Nicotine

A Novel
by Nell Zink
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<b>One of Huffington Post's 20 Fall 2016 Books You'll Need for Your Bookshelf

Featured in New York Magazine's Fall 2016 Preview

An Entertainment Weekly Fall 2016 Must-Read

Featured in LitHub's 2016 Bookseller's Fall Preview

Featured in The Guardian's Fall 2016 Books Preview: The Best American Writing

From the "wonderfully talented" (Dwight Garner, New York Times) author of <em>Mislaid</em> and <em>The Wallcreeper</em> comes a fierce and audaciously funny new novel, dazzling in its energy and ambition: a story of obsession, idealism, and ownership, centered around a young woman who inherits her bohemian father's childhood home.</b>

Recent business school graduate Penny Baker has rebelled against her family her whole life-by being the conventional one. Her mother, Amalia, was a member of an Amazonian tribe called the Kogi; her much older father, Norm, long ago attained cult-like deity status among a certain group of aging hippies while operating a 'healing center' in New Jersey. And she's never felt particularly close to her much-older half-brothers from Norm's previous marriage-one wickedly charming and obscenely rich (but mostly just wicked), one a photographer on a distant tropical island.


But all that changes when her father dies, and Penny inherits his childhood home in New Jersey. She goes to investigate the property and finds it not overgrown and abandoned, but rather occupied by a group of friendly anarchist squatters whom she finds unexpectedly charming, and who have renamed the property Nicotine House. The residents of Nicotine House (defenders of smokers' rights) possess the type of passion and fervor Penny feels she's desperately lacking, and the other squatter houses in the neighborhood provide a sense of community Penny's never felt before, and she soon moves into a nearby residence, becoming enmeshed in the political fervor and commitment of her fellow squatters.

As the Baker family's lives begin to converge around the fate of the Nicotine House, Penny grows ever bolder and more desperate to protect it-and its residents-until a fateful night when a reckless confrontation between her old family and her new one changes everything.

<b>One of Huffington Post's 20 Fall 2016 Books You'll Need for Your Bookshelf

Featured in New York Magazine's Fall 2016 Preview

An Entertainment Weekly Fall 2016 Must-Read

Featured in LitHub's 2016 Bookseller's Fall Preview

Featured in The Guardian's Fall 2016 Books Preview: The Best American Writing

From the "wonderfully talented" (Dwight Garner, New York Times) author of <em>Mislaid</em> and <em>The Wallcreeper</em> comes a fierce and audaciously funny new novel, dazzling in its energy and ambition: a story of obsession, idealism, and ownership, centered around a young woman who inherits her bohemian father's childhood home.</b>

Recent business school graduate Penny Baker has rebelled against her family her whole life-by being the conventional one. Her mother, Amalia, was a member of an Amazonian tribe called the Kogi; her much older father, Norm, long ago attained cult-like deity status among a certain group of aging hippies while operating a 'healing center' in New Jersey. And she's never felt particularly close to her much-older half-brothers from Norm's previous marriage-one wickedly charming and obscenely rich (but mostly just wicked), one a photographer on a distant tropical island.


But all that changes when her father dies, and Penny inherits his childhood home in New Jersey. She goes to investigate the property and finds it not overgrown and abandoned, but rather occupied by a group of friendly anarchist squatters whom she finds unexpectedly charming, and who have renamed the property Nicotine House. The residents of Nicotine House (defenders of smokers' rights) possess the type of passion and fervor Penny feels she's desperately lacking, and the other squatter houses in the neighborhood provide a sense of community Penny's never felt before, and she soon moves into a nearby residence, becoming enmeshed in the political fervor and commitment of her fellow squatters.

As the Baker family's lives begin to converge around the fate of the Nicotine House, Penny grows ever bolder and more desperate to protect it-and its residents-until a fateful night when a reckless confrontation between her old family and her new one changes everything.

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About the Author-
  • Nell Zink grew up in rural Virginia. She has worked in a variety of trades, including masonry and technical writing. In the early 1990s, she edited an indie rock fanzine. Her writing has also appeared in n+1. Her debut novel, The Wallcreeper, was published in 2014. She lives near Berlin, Germany.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 15, 2016
    Zink’s novel of anarchy in life, love, and real estate focuses on Penny Baker, daughter of healing expert and retired shaman Norm Baker, who dies after a prolonged painful illness, leaving behind Penny and her disjointed family. Amalia, Norm’s adopted daughter whom he rescued from a Cartagena garbage dump, is also Norm’s second wife and Penny’s mom. As a not-so-grieving widow, Amalia lusts after hard-hearted Matt, Norm’s oldest son from his first marriage. After seeing Norm through his last days, Penny finds herself homeless, unemployed, and haunted by memories. Matt suggests she reclaim the family’s neglected Jersey City house, but the house, christened “Nicotine” by the anarchist activist squatters who occupy it, has only one vacant room, and it’s filled with toxic waste drums. So Penny moves into another squatter home and visits Nicotine, where she falls for self-proclaimed asexual Rob. In bold strokes, punchy metaphors, and striking imagery, Zink etches her absurdist vision of modern culture, likening Norm’s hospice to a brothel licensed as a strip club because customers must ask for what they want in code (such as sex at the brothel, or quick, painless death through drugs at the hospice). Scenes of watching a loved one die and anarchists giving more family support than family add a touching chord to this impertinent, mordant portrait of a corroded society badly in need of reclamation.

  • Village Voice "Extraordinary... Get the book for its crackling prose and razor-sharp wit, but ready yourself for its blitzkrieg of startling imagery."
  • New Republic "Undeniably excellent... Propulsive... This is Zink at her most heartfelt... Zink is an architect. She builds worlds that look a little like ours, but are wrong enough to make one think—really think, not just feel. "
  • New York Times Book Review "Intellectually restless, uniquely funny...Propulsive, wonderfully stuffed with irreverent and absorbing banter...What's most bootylicious in this novel is Zink's warmhearted embrace of her subjects...One enjoys every minute with these obliging kooks....There may be some readers who want to make out with this book."
  • Chicago Tribune "Smart and often very funny... Even while Zink skewers bohemian stereotypes — the affluent squatter, the chain-smoking environmentalist — she cares for her characters, imbuing them with complicated personalities, causes and sexual proclivities. Rich sensory detail, earnest dialogue and raw emotion...Absorbing, original... Belongs on your fall list."
  • Dwight Garner, New York Times "She's a deadpan comedian, her sentences funny yet plump with existential dread...You're never tempted to put Ms. Zink's novels aside. They contain so much backspin and topspin that you're kept alert by the leaping motion... Her books are sexy... I could listen to Ms. Zink's dialogue all day."
  • The Millions "The author's best work... Zink is a wordsmith's wordsmith. She's sharp, wry, and might be a genius."
  • Wall Street Journal "A hilarious perversion of the rom-com...Ms. Zink's 2015 novel Mislaid delightfully sent up racial and gender mores, and here again she has affectionate fun tweaking the pieties of her cast of businessmen, cultists and activists. ...Nicotine is light reading in the best sense. Think Wodehouse for millennials."
  • Los Angeles Times "[A] wild and nervy novel. Zink is a master of rapid character development, shifting perspectives, sex scenes and plot twists. ... "Nicotine" was so addictive it made me want to reach for a cigarette when I was done."
  • Washington Post "Zink writes some of the most comical lust between "love weasels" in contemporary fiction...[She] excels at scathing set pieces that caustically sum up places and local cultures...She gets her characters in motion, like mismatched roommates in a ramshackle house, and lets us enjoy watching them pinball around."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune "Zink has a sharp knack for illuminating the challenges facing American millennials circa now... [In Nicotine] you'll find the cutting social commentary and sharply drawn characters of one of this decade's most promising new novelists."
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    HarperCollins
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A Novel
Nell Zink
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