Doxology by Nell Zink: Propelled into the mindset of Gen X

Review: The events of 9/11 form the fulcrum to Zink’s latest novel

Nell Zink: Doxology feels more substantial and solidly-wrought than the author’s prior work. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Nell Zink: Doxology feels more substantial and solidly-wrought than the author’s prior work. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Nell Zink’s new novel summons a time when young people could run away from home to the big city without a trust-fund and make major life decisions inspired by Dionysian musical subcultures. That would be 1986. Discovered at 50 in 2014, 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.

In flight from beastly parents, her imagination inflamed by hardcore punk, 17-year-old high-school dropout Pam lands in the soiled milieu of junk bond-era New York where prostitutes wear “recently hit faces”. She finds work as a programmer and community among singer-songwriter Joe and fellow scenester Daniel with whom she also hooks up. Daniel, specimen of an earlier genus of hipster – less precious, more everyman, than today’s soft-bearded variant – is slacker-impresario of his own boutique record label. He improbably stewards Joe toward a major label deal and minor fame before Joe succumbs to a peril of cult status: an overdose. Zink’s description of drug death is chilling: “He stretched… and shivered, eyes and mouth wide, as if the shadow of a convulsion were passing over him.”

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