Mislaid by Nell Zink
Hysterical realism describes a literary genre which contrasts an absurd plot with careful, detailed investigation of a specific social phenomena. In Nell Zink’s second novel, Mislaid, a thorny and troublesome lesbian student is gets pregnant and marries her gay poetry professor in a 1960s college setting. Absurd. When this marriage falls apart, the young woman leaves with one, but not both, of her blue-eyed, blonde-haired children, obtains the birth certificate of a deceased African American child, and tries to pass herself and her daughter as black. And she gets away with it! Equally absurd, but as the all-knowing omniscient narrator says, “Maybe you have to be from the South to get your head around blonde black people.”
Zink’s narrator probes the minds of multiple generations of characters and speaks directly to the reader offering sharp observations and bitingly humorous commentary. But you don’t have to be from the South to grasp Zink’s point. Race and gender designations mean nothing in Mislaid, everyone is a minority – of one.
The plot is the stuff of comic opera, updated for the 20th century American South. This is a comedy of manners and errors about sexuality, race, and class. Link uses the absurdity of the story to challenge the mores and customs over time. She questions the ways in which we see and judge each other. And, instead of a bad-tempered, anxious tone that you’d expect when handling such loaded material, she skips along with ease and cleverness. This novel is often laugh-out-loud funny.
“Zink peppers her narration with references to Herman Hesse, James Joyce, and W.E.B. DuBois and keeps the pace ticking as the plot zips through small-time drug dealing, cross-cultural relationships and highly refreshing commentary on lesbian sexuality,” says Nicole Lee of the Los Angeles Times. Walter Kirn, writes in the The New York Times it’s a “latter-day fairy tale thick with misunderstandings and coincidences, concealments and revelations … and suddenly we find ourselves surrounded by a crowd of familiar Southern eccentrics on an overdetermined collision course.”
Come discuss Mislaid with us Wednesday, September 27 at 6:15pm at Writer’s Block Bookstore, 124 E Welbourne Avenue, one block off Park Avenue.
Article appeared in September, 2017 issue of Winter Park Living Magazine.