Doxology isn’t fundamentally a music novel. It has many other things on its mind, including a subversive history of American politics from Operation Desert Shield through the start of the Trump presidency, and it’s superb. In terms of its author’s ability to throw dart after dart after dart into the center of your media-warped mind and soul, it’s the novel of the summer and possibly the year. It’s a ragged chunk of ecstatic cerebral-satirical intellection. It’s bliss ... Zink writes about music as if she were a cluster of the best American rock critics...crushed together under a single byline. This novel is replete with erudite signifiers that drop all over the place, like a toddler eating a pint of blueberries ... Doxology puts [Zink] on a new level as a novelist ... This book is more ambitious and expansive and sensitive than her earlier work. She lays her heart on the line in a way she hasn’t before ... Doxology loses a bit of its sweep, if none of its intelligence, in its final half. Yet it has taken a running leap, regardless, at greatness. Zink writes as if the political madness of the last four decades had been laid on for her benefit as a novelist ... Like a mosquito, Zink vectors in on the neck of our contemporary paranoia. She has got a feral appetite for news of our species, good and ill. As dark as Doxology can be, it’s no wonder that its title means a hymn of praise.
... powerful ... [Zink] balances...specificity (Coding! Punk rock! D.C. neighborhoods!) in the service of what feels like a larger goal ... One small problem, especially in the first half, is that everyone sounds the same ... Even if the book tries to do too much, the undeniable result is how much a reader will care about this girl and her dad and the mom and those grandparents ... At a moment when things are most dire, in the book and maybe in our own lives, a creaky but noble book brings us close to present day and concludes with an enviable familial quietude, and perhaps a small bit of implied advice.
In Doxology, Zink has upcycled the plot points of her earlier novels—affairs between college students and their professors, unplanned pregnancies, environmental activism—onto new characters, adroitly parsing the generational conflicts and collusions between millennials and Gen X ... Zink tends to operate on a register of pastiche, and in Doxology, she reassembles the stylistic and narrative elements of the 'post-9/11' novel by the likes of Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Jonathan Safran Foer, excising from them their more sentimental purviews and inserting instead a measure of dry appraisal ... What seems to be a personal problem turns out to be, as in many of Zink’s plots, hereditary, a move that grants Zink leverage to ravel her characters in predicaments that are comically banal, mostly because of her characters’ struggles to separate family trauma from personal failures ... Zink’s writing, and Doxology in particular, is perhaps best understood as...a long argument against solipsism articulated through an exaggeration of its effects. The personal isn’t political, but neither is the converse of this statement quite true.
...surprisingly conventional. This time around, there is no straining against the dimensions of reality, no postmodern backflips. It feels like a quirky genius trying her best to behave at the dinner table ... Her portrait of the parasitic relationship between fans and their idols is hilarious; her take on the record business exposes an industry of endemic pomposity and abuse. Doxology includes an interview from Rolling Stone that is so spot on the magazine could sue for plagiarism if Zink had not made the whole thing up. But about halfway through the novel, history crashes into this plot, and it feels like somebody unplugged the electric guitars. What was initially a brash riff on pop culture becomes, in the story’s next generation, a fairly labored postmortem of the Clinton/Trump campaign ... Zink is an astute critic of our recent election and its alarming abuses, but this shift seems designed as a grasp for weightiness and relevance, which succeeds at the expense of the novel’s humor and surprise. In the same way, a final section about a privileged young woman trying to choose between a wealthy older suitor and a penniless young lover is pleasant, but surprisingly bland. Bring back Minor Threat—and Zink’s electric wit.
The opening pages of Nell Zink’s irreverent, ersatz social novel Doxology suggest a quirky tale about parenthood and punk rock in 1980s New York. But it soon expands into something bigger, more charming and ambitious ... Zink plays those personal and global calamities against each other, striving to bring two sad, strange notes into harmony. That experimental spirit makes her a distinctive figure in American literature, almost gleefully unimpressed with pieties ... she has a remarkable talent for taking our disorderly world and giving it a shape that feels funny, humane and true.
... a tender story about what it means to be a good person and a good parent in trying times ... circles around a coterie of gentle, likable characters who seem to find the task of navigating their tangled personal lives as difficult as confronting the challenges of an increasingly complicated world. As they make their amiable, if sometimes stumbling, way, more than a few readers will see in their story reflections of their own lives.
...for the first time in Zink's career, the comedy never quite works ... Sentence to sentence, Doxology is still very funny. Zink is a vivid, voicey writer exceptionally gifted at both wryness and character development ... In D.C., Doxology loses its way ... Arch political commentary takes over the novel. Zink's sentences get less funny. Music and religion all but vanish from the novel, replaced by social orthodoxies ... Once the election starts, Doxology's ideas mostly end. Zink hews too closely to events — first Pizzagate, then the Standing Rock pipeline protests, then Flora's off to canvass in western Pennsylvania — and spends too little time digressing from or meditating on them ... It all feels a bit downloaded from three-year-old text threads, lacking perspective on events too recent to warrant rewriting otherwise ... With more fully realized ideas, Doxology could have been a comedy of belief ... Instead, it mostly pokes fun, and pokes some not-so-old social wounds in doing so.
... is, in some ways, an old-fashioned thing – and all the better for it. It’s a big, loping, digressive multi-generational novel, telling several stories, of the sort you don’t see all that much in literary fiction these days. Point of view scoots merrily from character to character, major or minor, as suits the narration. And Zink blithely ignores that silliest cliche of literary advice: show, don’t tell. She’s a teller, the book is full of information, and her pert authorial commentary is part of the fun ... The straight-edge idealism of late 80s hardcore bands resonates backwards with the hippie/boomer idealism of Pamela’s parents, and forwards to the millennial idealism of Flora’s generation ... This is no jeremiad, though. Sentence by sentence it is wry and very funny, generous in spirit and full of the quick of life. Its irony is warm. Like Joe, it sings - as Gerard Manley Hopkins would have it - in praise of everything fickle, freckled, swift, slow, sweet, sour, adazzle, dim. It’s a doxology, after all.
Zink narrates this story in a deadpan third person. Her sentences are little nuggets, in careful equipoise between high irony and mere accuracy ... It is not always clear where, exactly, these jabs are meant to land ... As the novel unfolds, the reader isn’t sure whether its portraits count as realism or as satire. The novel seems to approach the sweeping, multigenerational sagas of Zink’s pen pal Franzen. In tone and structure, Doxology sheds Zink’s usual frantic energy. But, even as she turns toward the cadences of social realism, Zink fights its constraints. She places potholes along her paved road ... Zink’s move toward realism may be her attempt to take material that her readers have spent three years mulling over and make it fresh—an attempt to stop stretching reality and acknowledge it instead ... By hewing more closely to a shared idea of the present, Zink may be using her talents not to invent but to understand ... But this shakiness between reality and satire also suggests some skepticism about what, precisely, a novelist—or an activist or any individual—can accomplish. Zink’s characters are essentially powerless—powerless against big labels, against environmental catastrophe, against the political-financial complex. The characters don’t even have the force that comes from conviction ... Zink has spent her career probing the extent to which people on the fringes can change the world around them. But what does making art mean in a world where no creation can bring together individuals who feel flattened by politics? ... Part of the reason that Zink’s barbs, however pointed, seem to ricochet from one victim to the next is that they lack the conviction that they’ll land on a public ready to respond. How do you empower people who can unite only through dread?
Zink’s speciality is misfits—Doxology’s cast isn’t quite as rowdy a rag-bag as she has treated us to before, though they still have their moments—but she never fetishises them. It’s because of their quirks and oddities that her characters always feel so real. She’s also an absolute whizz at dialogue ... Fans of her earlier work can rest easy: her prose still zings with energy, her wit is still sharp-as-a-tack, and she wears her erudition as lightly as ever. Doxology is part rambunctious group picaresque, part whip-smart sociological treatise ... Zink speedily locates the pulse points of a generation ... Doxology is a big American novel of the very best kind, mainlining the anxieties of our age, but with just the right dose of love and mercy to take the edge off.
With the precision of a sniper, Nell Zink nails the disorientation of coming of age in the 1980s ... Ms. Zink is good at skewering the hubris of people who try to plan their lives ... This multi-generational novel has a grander sweep than the earlier books, but it is just as easy to devour. Ms. Zink writes with such momentum, and seems to be having so much fun, that she can make a story that traverses some of the darkest moments in recent history (9/11, both Iraq wars, the 2016 election) into an exhilarating and grimly amusing page turner ... the pleasure is in the details, which she delivers with a droll sociological flair ... Flora’s story feels a little less playfully incisive than the book’s heady first half. Partly this is because Flora herself is too serious and self-possessed to be a proper conduit for satire ... Alas, the current state of American politics may be too madcap and troubling to lend itself to farce ... Ms. Zink’s roving third-person allows her to keep her eyebrow cocked as she describes social moments and historical trends in brief, sure strokes...Yet this critical distance deprives readers of the intimacy of interiority. As a result, Ms. Zink’s characters are often interesting and cleverly drawn without being entirely comprehensible. Their choices are reliably entertaining but rarely moving ... Still, for a book that chronicles the way illusions are lost and lives are uncomfortably buffeted by circumstance, Doxology is surprisingly uplifting. Ms. Zink has too much compassion for her characters to make them truly suffer. Instead, she offers some invigorating examples of human resilience.
After the chaos of Nicotine, I didn’t know what to expect from Doxology. The events and aftermath of September 11 and the 2016 presidential race did not seem a natural fit for the Zink treatment, perhaps because the world’s insanity has outpaced even the imagination of an expert hyperbolist. Though there are a few of Zink’s trademark moves—notably a couple of side characters who run away with large portions of the plot—her approach to the broader canvas has changed. The characters, especially the central couple, grow and develop in more subtle ways over the course of the novel than Zink’s characters usually do, and the story proceeds at a more measured pace than any of her previous books. It shows signs of a longing, not entirely fulfilled, to meet the world where it is ... Her setups are often richer and more inhabited than the follow-throughs, with promising plotlines receding from view in favor of an old-fashioned insistence on pairing characters off into romantic relationships before the book ends. Like Helen DeWitt, perhaps the contemporary closest to her stylistically, she has a weakness for a Rube Goldberg approach to plot, in which the story can’t end until every object that has been set in motion comes to rest in its predetermined place. As a result, the books can feel somewhat weightless, even after they’ve engaged with the weightiest subjects ... The result is a book that doesn’t quite justify its deployment of the trappings of the 'novel of our times.' Caught somewhere between satirizing that genre and earnestly attempting it, Zink lands in an uncertain middle ground.
Zink packs a lot into this book, and some streamlining may have been in order. She has a story to tell here, but perhaps not a point to make, and she doesn’t give readers much opportunity to really empathize with the characters. Pam, Daniel, Joe and Flora are given stuff to do, but they often fail to respond in authentic ways, so the novel sometimes feels flat. Zink could’ve given them all much more emotional power, and the story would’ve been stronger for it. All this is not to say that Doxology isn’t worth reading. It is entertaining and timely, full of winking references to music, art, politics and contemporary culture. Zink’s writing style is quirky—descriptive and funny, but holding characters, and thus readers, at a distance.
Nell Zink’s Doxology feels as if it should come with a soundtrack drawn from the independent music scene of New York in the 1990s ... Doxology could have been two novels: the first chronicling the lives of those who live by their instincts and guided by their hearts; the second a chronicle of one who felt burnt by that previous approach, and who now lives a life of the intellect and whose heart is behind barricades ... The dualism at the heart of Zink’s entertaining and clever novel is another approach to an ancient puzzle: What part of ourselves do we allow to lead us? Are we better served by our rational intellects, which apprehend reality and present us with calibrated answers, or should we be creatures whose passionate hearts and gut instincts direct our path? The middle ground is, of course, where most of us end up. How her characters get to that place is at the heart of Zink’s bittersweet and brilliant work.
... the second half of the novel is far more interesting ... Until she gives up on grad school, her dreams, and herself, Flora truly is a compelling character but by the end of the novel, she's made the same poor decisions her mother made and while we love her and want her to be happy, it's hard to keep rooting for a girl whose lack of self-care is almost a mimic of her mother's ... There are deep and compelling moments throughout Doxology but there are also deeply troubling moments. Pam and David and Joe seem to live in a Lower East Side that is largely (and inaccurately) white but the '80s hipster' is described as not capable of gentrification (a stance that is never clearly explained) ... But this novel is still a good albeit somewhat madcap and maddening read ... Perhaps the central flaw in the novel is that throughout there is an overwhelming cynicism that cuts through joy and hope and leaves us wondering, did these people—did we—learn nothing on 9/11? ... Zink provides moments of transcendence but there is no true 'doxology,' no hymn of praise present here, save the individual moments of love between Flora and her father.
... exudes the self-conscious ambition of the big American novel. The sweep is broad and the themes weighty, though Zink is really aspiring here to a conventional kind of ambitiousness, grappling with the eternal tensions of the public and private spheres in familiar ways. But form and content get awkwardly separated. The what (9/11, contemporary politics, climate change) overrides the how ... there’s something compromisingly straight-edge about the novel itself. The prose is well behaved, free from stylistic gusto and excess, so that it all feels uncharacteristically pedestrian. When Zink does go in for a flourishing riff it tends to be awkwardly arch and knowing ... this stop-start format risks killing momentum, thwarting the development of themes. This can be fatal for a novel that elevates ideas above form, and Doxology indeed lacks friction. Each time a segment ends, the building pressure is released as the narrative jumps from one plot point (and its attendant ideas) to the next ... Zink’s small parcels of narrative encourage contrived conclusions, tied up with one-liners that are either faux– profound or too pat ... For all its breadth, this is a novel in a hurry. Things that should be shown are told too quickly ... The very final section, on the other hand, which deals with Flora’s pregnancy and her baby’s contested paternity, is intensely personal and implicitly political. It is superbly done and here Nell Zink shows us how it all could have been. If only she had let those straight edges go a little wobbly.
... comes out swinging for a center spot in the literary canon ... one of the most notable novels of the year ... The book is ingeniously Gen-X in that it moves its own generation off center stage so a Millennial can take over.
Zink is Gen X’s gift to millennial letters, and Doxology announces itself like a squall of screeching Sonic Youth feedback trailing droll asides like an album review in a snarky 1990s zine ... Amid the turn-of-the-millennium noontide, Zink alights on the sheer pre-miniaturization pre-virtualisation profusion of 'things' ... feels more substantial and solidly-wrought than Zink’s prior work. Most recently, Mislaid and Nicotine were unassuming yet arresting, but there was a performative feel: exuberant but jerry-built; their loose ends gathered up rather too neatly. Doxology leaves things untucked ... This solidity throws a certain weightlessness in Zink’s fiction into sharper relief though ... Antigravity plotting contributed to Mislaid’s hectic whimsy, but it jars in an otherwise-grounded novel. Of a piece: a disembodied hamminess of speech – characters sounding like repartee-slinging aesthetes yucking it up over brandy and cigars. In a less virtuosic novel the reader might bog down. It’s testament to Doxology’s verve that you’re propelled through.
There’s true tenderness in Zink’s portrait of their mutual affection. Here’s what a family looks like, she seems to say ... rings true with detail both glamorous and mundane, from record label talks to an A&E dash when Flora falls off a changing table. Our sense of the book’s authenticity sags only when we see Flora in her ecologically conscious 20s, studying soil erosion in Ethiopia and cutting her political teeth in the run-up to the 2016 election. Zink once played in an underground band and edited an indie-rock zine; whether she’s ever been to Addis Ababa or sat in on a Democrat strategy meeting, I don’t know – it’s irrelevant – but either way, the book’s second half doesn’t hit the high notes of the first ... it’s hard not to suspect Zink (born in 1964) feels that twentysomethings in her own generation had their heads screwed on as well as screwed up ... invigorating and intermittently brilliant. Yet as the plot grows manic, the hardboiled sass of the prose turns perfunctory; and when, late on, an apocalyptic miasma leads to little but a riff on how Fox News decides the pollution cloud is less noteworthy than an item on the optimum thickness of spaghetti, there’s a sense that, for Zink, endings remain elusive.
...a wide-spreading mural portraying the lives of an American family ... Zink’s use of the third-person enables her to dance from character to character, one paragraph after the other ... Zink never sticks with one character for longer than a page at a time, building a pace which isn’t unlike that of her characters, so quick-witted and always in motion, questioning their lives and relationships but united as a family, manifested through their shared space on the page ... Reminiscent of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Zink’s language has a melodic quality, her long, crisp sentences enhanced by precise punctuation and smart alliteration. Every character is fast-talking and ceaselessly witty; they appear to be performing like the musicians they desire to become, their use of language a kind of instrument ... She shows why she’s one of America’s great contemporary novelists through her sharp shift of focus, capturing a multitude of landscapes from the wide vistas of American music and politics, to the finer details of sustainable farming, computer programming, and D.C. parks. The wealth of knowledge that Zink brings to her novel is generous ... Zink’s writing remains enthralling in spite of not seeing all of her conflicts fully through to their ends.
Zink skillfully navigates a myriad of perspectives and storylines ... some of the more political moments of Doxology feel slightly heavy-handed and far from fresh in 2019. Zink’s strength as a writer, though, lies in creating immersive stories.
Zink’s characters are marvelously relatable, instantly recognizable to readers who lived through the times she writes about as they move through richly described settings. Zink’s distinctively offbeat sensibility and wit soften the frequently devastating circumstances in which her characters find themselves. A strong effort by an excellent writer of quirky contemporary fiction.
As time passes, Zink infuses the novel with as many period details as possible, but the repeated intrusion of the narrator explaining the political and cultural developments during the last 30 years becomes a bit overbearing and, worse, mostly unnecessary. Still, Zink’s gifts for characterization and richly evoked periods and places are on display throughout. Zink’s longest novel is her most ambitious and perhaps her most effective.
... might have easily been a story about that time and that place, but the scope of Zink's work is ambitious ... very concerned with the evolving sociopolitical milieu of its characters, and at times, it reads like a greatest hits of national events since the end of the Cold War...These historical beats set the rhythm for the plot a bit stringently ... While the main characters are impeccably drawn, they can feel subservient to Zink's need to narrate this epoch, which she does as if she were a snarky left-of-center pundit on MSNBC, lining up the hypocrisies one by one and knocking them down ... at its best when it's a portrait of a family in all of its cycles of growth and maturation. Characters come and go throughout, and intrigues flare and fizzle, much like in life. Or perhaps, much like in life in the last 30 years. It feels too hard to hold a grudge in this precarious world. Maybe that's the lesson we carry forward.
There is no shortage of fiction chronicling young people finding themselves through the punk scene on the Lower East Side, but Zink’s version of this coming-of-age tale is distinctive because her superpower as an author is crafting weirdos and misfits without being excessively charmed by her creations ... There’s something refreshing about Zink’s willingness to name names. When she writes about the last presidential election, she doesn’t create a character who looks a lot like Donald Trump; she writes about Donald Trump. At the same time, it’s an open question how much people who are bombarded by news about Donald Trump all day, every day, want to see his name in a novel. How many people still angry and despondent over 2016 want to relive it through the eyes of a Green Party staffer? More critically, fiction set behind the scenes in Washington doesn’t feel all that compelling when everyone in the real Washington—from politicians to speechwriters to low-level staffers—has an Instagram account ... A timely, ambitious, and uneven effort from an excellent contemporary writer.