Before Literary Fame, Nell Zink Was In West Philly, Making A Fanzine About Animals

Nell Zink: In West Philadelphia, her prose was raised. 

Nell Zink: In West Philadelphia, her prose was raised. 

If you haven’t come across Nell Zink yet, it’s time you knew. Read her utterly strange and inimitable novel 2015 Mislaid and you may well wonder just where the hell this person came from, with her keen eye and disarming gallows humor. It makes perfect sense that she spent some of the Big Nothing of the 1990s right here in West Philly, cranking out a zine called Animal Review that compiled her own indie record label reviews with gross or curious miscellany about animals, or parables such as:

… Fritz, a Kabul markhor, or wild goat, who set off in his Jeep after spending the winter in his cabin eating Doritos. He was lonely and decided to visit Bob, an African elephant. But Fritz crashed and was taken to a zoo hospital, where he awoke after a two-month coma and a $45,000 medical bill. They put him behind bars to work off his debt.

Poor Fritz. Zink has said that the raison d’être for this publication was scoring free records, but her abilities as a writer were also developing in that interlude. There is a wild fearlessness to her stories. Kathryn Schulz described Zink’s unusual playing field in her New Yorker profile of the writer as:

…the big stuff: the travesty of American apartheid; the sexual, economic, and intellectual status of women; the ephemerality of desire and its enduring consequences. We think of being deadpan as playing it straight during comic episodes, but Zink stays deadpan through everything—through outlandishness, anger, injustice, grief. 

Having long since left the United States for a new life just outside of Berlin, it is a rare treat to be able to hear Zink read from her new work at the Free Library tonight at 7:30 pm. Her new book, Nicotine, concerns itself with the “generational culture clash of Baby Boomers and Millennials,” as the unemployed protagonist Penny Baker discovers a group of anarchist squatters in her childhood home in Jersey. Dare we say that this absurdist dystopia sounds…relatable? 

Nell Zink reads with Amor Towles at the Free Library, Central Branch, tonight, Tuesday October 4. Tickets and info here.