Avalon follows Bran, a high school graduate in California who is raised by her "common-law-stepfather" in a rowdy home following her mother's death. And then she meets Peter, a beautiful, troubled, and charming train wreck of a college student from the East Coast, who launches his teaching career by initiating her into the world of literature and aesthetics. As the two begin a volatile and ostensibly doomed long-distance relationship, Bran searches for meaning in her own surroundings—attending disastrous dance recitals, house-sitting for strangers, and writing scripts for student films.
I like almost everything about Nell Zink’s comic novels and the merry chaos they bring to a rather static American book scene. I like their ridiculously overelaborate storylines and I like their willingness to end happily. I like Ms. Zink’s habit of direct address ... I like that the books are actually funny. Her customary lunacy is on display again in Avalon ... A dab of nonsense is the crucial component that keeps the discussions lively and entertaining ... Having set down so much praise, it feels churlish to complain about Avalon. But as my toddler says whenever I present him with a thoughtfully prepared meal, this isn’t my favorite ... The decision to deliver the novel from Brandy’s point of view doesn’t show Ms. Zink in her best light—the first-person voice is paradoxically more buttoned-up than her omniscient third-person narratives. And there’s a comparative shortage of comic set pieces here, as well as a needlessly fractured ending. But despite its seeming hastiness, its overall underdone quality, Avalon contains delights.
With Avalon, it’s as though Zink glanced at the mundane little formula that recurs throughout her press clippings and filched it for a plot ... Near the end of the book, the possibility of a terrible plot twist arises — the kind that rests on a preposterous coincidence. Zink dangles the twist long enough to make a reader squirm and then — made you look! — darts in another direction. There’s no fudging the rules in Avalon, which is the effulgent and clever sort of novel that replicates the experience of learning a new game: You enter its world voluntarily and add your reading effort to Zink’s writing effort with the idea that the sum of these energies will create a zone of mirth and meaning. What fun.
Nell Zink has honed a talent for prose that's assertive, even breezy in the face of ostensibly sad subjects ... So it's fitting in a way that her latest, Avalon, is a kind of modern fairy tale ... Loosely plotted and chatty ... Zink lovingly lampoons the way that teenagers bumble toward identity and character ... What little narrative momentum that "Avalon" achieves — Zink is best for readers who don't mind a lot of digression in their novels — lies in finding out whether Bran will get her happy ending ... A comparative literature major with curly black hair, Peter is almost comically erudite for his age ... But it's easy to forgive Zink this flight of fancy in a book that's so fun to read. And you don't have to believe a fairy tale to enjoy it.