Mislaid by Nell Zink

Mislaid, like Nell Zink’s first novel, The Wallcreeper, is a confident and clever work, but what is most striking is its peculiar style. It’s a bizarre domestic satire about a very dysfunctional family spanning from the 1960s to the 1980s in Virginia. Peggy, who decides at a young age that she is a ‘thespian’ (which she has confused with ‘lesbian’), attends Stillwater, an old-fashioned girls’ college. There she meets Lee Fleming, a young poet whose homosexuality led his old-money family to banish him to teach literature. Lee and Peggy embark on an unlikely affair which ends in a marriage and children.

Zink’s tale of the separation and reformation of this family incorporates enormous cultural shifts and iconography, including beat poets, modern business-school universities, the aftermath of segregation in the south, and the characters’ engagement with race and gender politics. Political incorrectness and the stuff of real family trauma are treated lightly here, but somehow Zink makes it original and subversive, filling her novel with deadpan humour and enviable one-liners. Woven throughout all of this is a very interesting exploration of a woman’s decision to leave an oppressive relationship and make a life on her own terms, and it’s a brilliantly funny read.


Georgia Delaney works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.