cover image Mislaid


Nell Zink. Ecco, $15.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-236479-1

In Zink’s second novel (following The Wallcreeper, named one of the best books of 2014 by PW), a gay man and a gay woman meet at Virginia’s Stillwater College in the 1960s, marry and have children, and eventually separate—it’s a deceptively slim epic of family life that rivals a Greek tragedy in drama and wisdom. The mother, Meg, goes on the lam, taking the identity of a deceased black girl for her daughter, Karen, to start a new life in the rural South (Meg tells the community that she and her daughter are of African-American lineage, though they are white), while her son, Byrdie, remains with the father, Lee. Years later, the kids’ paths cross in a confluence of events at the University of Virginia. The novel deftly handles race, sexuality, and coming of age. Zink’s insight is beautifully braided into understated prose that never lets the tension subside; the narrator’s third-person voice is wry, and the dialogue is snappy. In one scene Meg reflects on how she’ll raise Karen in her new identity: “Children have no hearts [...] and their minds are rickety towers of surreal detritus.” The various ways the characters’ memories and motives affect the action is frequently “mislaid,” from the inciting relationship to the far-flung situations in which the characters find themselves—it all points to Zink’s masterly subtlety and depth. (May)