Nicotine is intellectually restless, uniquely funny and, I would argue, her best yet ... Zink’s narrative is propulsive, wonderfully stuffed with irreverent and absorbing banter among these characters who move in slightly off-kilter orbits ... Maybe what’s most bootylicious in this novel is Zink’s warmhearted embrace of her subjects.
The chapterless novel is fast, smart and often very funny yet it doesn't seem strictly satirical. 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 make these flawed but searching weirdos if not relatable, then at the very least real ... belongs on your fall reading list.
...a hilarious perversion of the rom-com ... [Zink] has affectionate fun tweaking the pieties of her cast of businessmen, cultists and activists ... beyond the satirical flourishes, the novel’s real agenda is to be amusing. Ms. Zink’s world is bawdy and absurd but essentially harmless. After marching her characters through a succession of ridiculous mishaps, she rewards them all with happy endings. It’s freeing to read a novel that’s both so witty and so inconsequential. Nicotine is light reading in the best sense. Think Wodehouse for millennials.
The book works best when the jokes are set against a backdrop of genuine pain, so it comes as something of a loss when the plot swerves towards the cartoonish ... Zink matches her satire with real affection for these gangs of intelligent young people, how they are committed to their beliefs and simultaneously adrift in the world ... As the novel moves to its climax, the plottiness of the plot does get a bit exhausting. The networks of relationships grow more complex, the scenarios more absurd. But even when the story feels stretched, there’s a liveliness in Zink’s prose, an exuberance, that carries the reader.
...like her previous books, it’s a mess: anarchic in its plot machinations, scrambled in its themes, mostly shallow in its emotions ... The strange thing is that 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 ... Ms. Zink has a confident feel for the dynamics of a group house, and for the lives of young, earnest, befuddled, middle-class kids who will sacrifice a good deal in order to believe in something ... I could listen to Ms. Zink’s dialogue all day; she may be, at heart, a playwright.
Nicotine is a disappointment compared with its two wily, almost unclassifiable predecessors ... Yet beneath the froth runs the same rich theme that has informed her distinctive satiric perspective from the start: the slippery nature of our public identities and loyalties ... In prose that deploys social theory and delivers one-liners with equal antic verve, Zink makes sure that her role-shifting characters keep her readers off-balance ... Nicotine serves up light sexual comedy and broadbrush satire of social activist pretenses, recalling Zink’s previous work in what almost feels like self-parody ... Nicotine feels unfinished.
Zink fears nothing—or at least nothing in the form of moral, political, or artistic reproach. Her novels contain not a speck of cant or piety from any position on any spectrum ... The ideological stew of millennial activism serves as a backdrop. Zink’s approach to this milieu is remarkably subtle—too sympathetic, perhaps, to qualify as satire, but uninclined to let anyone off the hook ... Nicotine hasn’t really got a moral, despite the high-minded types who populate its pages. It spills out like the endlessly unfolding events of life itself.
Nicotine’s satire of bourgeois morality bites at hypocrisy with Zinkian snappishness, but retains a conventional level of sympathy for its attractive female protagonist when she gets into hot water...The pretty heroine generally does the right thing. It’s a little bit boring, in that respect ... This is Zink at her most heartfelt ... [Nicotine] display[s] Zink’s flair for crafting absorbing narrative out of unpredictable subject matter.
...a wonderful novel ... Zink’s loving satirization of the Left might be badly received in today’s prickly political climate. But make no mistake: Nicotine isn’t some Lionel Shriver-style rant against diversity or a Jonathan Franzen-ish screed against technology ... A death-centered novel such as this can’t help but feel serious, even if it sometimes feels deliberately inconsequential. Whatever its intent, the tension between noise and meaning makes for an incredibly lively read.
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 ... Zink’s scathing takedowns of activist pretensions are dead-on ... Zink’s novels have a loose, jumpy energy and depend on machine-gun-fire dialogue. She gets her characters in motion, like mismatched roommates in a ramshackle house, and lets us enjoy watching them pinball around.
Bravo to Zink for realizing the full comedic potential of America’s rather rapid move away from its nicotine addiction, particularly during a time when everything feels so at stake, so nerve wracked and so helplessly rigged. (This novel is effortlessly current, by the way, so on target that Trump’s campaign is mentioned.) Zink expertly demonstrates how addled, anxious and alone Americans are and how in need of a drag of something they are to calm the collective nerves ... Nicotine was so addictive it made me want to reach for a cigarette when I was done.
The novel’s plot meanders down some byways that are less interesting than others, and some of Zink’s characters aren’t really credible. The appeal of Nicotine mostly lies in its good-naturedly humorous depiction of the way some of us live now, particularly within a certain subset of young people who are politically engaged — a hipsterish, tattooed, gender-fluid, digitally connected, marginally employed, semi-privileged, disaffected cohor ... Much of the novel’s arch humour emerges from the dissonances generated by radical life in a relatively affluent and liberal society ... When she hits her targets, which is often, Nicotine can be quite funny.
...a witty, quip-dense romp of a novel ... Nicotine has all the verve and sparkle of a young thing that revels in the shallowness of youth. It brims with zany bustle, but misses the forms of consequence that conventionally give novels weight. ... lacks a certain conviction, some trace of an attitude that stands at a distance from its characters, that would make the novel’s social observations more incisive ... Much of the novel takes place in the emotional register of an emoticon. Yet for all its zeitgesty patter, in a post-9/11, post-Bush, post-Ferguson, Trump-Clinton climate, a novel in which everyone is safe and nothing ever really hurts seems more avoidant than trenchant.
Nicotine is a well-plotted, funny, subtly horrifying read ... Zink thankfully approaches her occasionally wackadoodle lefties with the exasperated warmth of a slightly irritated parent who’s nonetheless paying for her child’s nose piercing ... But at times, Penny’s characterization acquires the flatness of [Jonathan] Franzen’s constructions of women. This is a terrible shame, because the language in Nicotine is an outright joy to read.
In this darkly comedic feud between anarchists and capitalists, Zink lays bare how the aesthetics of idealism are appropriated by corporate opportunists and subsequently fed to an unwitting and unquestioning public. As the title suggests, this novel is both addictive and jolting before leaving a final harsh, corrosive taste.
That it works as well as it does, without bogging down in pathos, is a testament to Zink’s deftness in portraying the clashing values and quirks of three successive generations — baby boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials ... Zink has a sharp knack for illuminating the challenges facing American millennials circa now: the dicey customs and codes of an increasingly racially and sexually diverse society, the growing blur between social media and lived experience, the difficulty of making a living in a post-career economy.
Nicotine is a good yarn, plot-wise, but the real hooks are in its sometimes subtle (though occasionally broad) bits of satire. It’s not mean-spirited — these post-post-hippies mean well, after all — but the book has teeth and bares them in fun ways. Every single one of Zink’s novels has been different, and a bunch came with a Jonathan Franzen seal of approval. This might not be her most 'important,' but it’s gotta be the most fun.
Nicotine feels much more Franzian—meandering, expansive, and centered around the dramas of a wealthy family while overlooking opportunities for critical introspection ... The drifting narrative allows for a cast of imperfect and weird individuals to collide with each other. Sex infuses the story, and it’s fun to anticipate the implosion of relationships as lovers furtively swap partners ... Nicotine is a well-built novel and there is plenty to like. Zink’s wittiness emerges more subtly than in Mislaid or The Wallcreeper, but what the novel lacks in humor, Zink makes up for in smooth, concise storytelling. Nicotine progresses steadily while the plot’s remains unpredictable. It is book that demands you finish reading.
[Zink's] eye for environmental detail and the residents’ rhetorical shortcomings and half-assed, ennui-addled commitments is sharp ... Even with its cataclysmic sexual mismatches, short bursts of violence and a broadly comic comeuppance, Nicotine doesn’t deliver the tightly plotted power of Mislaid’s explosive last act. But it does take Penny and others to surprising and satisfying new places.