Author(s): Nell Zink
Two generations of an American family come of age - one before 9/11, one after - in this moving and original novel from the "intellectually restless, uniquely funny" (New York Times Book Review) mind of Nell Zink.
Pam, Daniel, and Joe might be the worst punk band on the Lower East Side. Struggling to scrape together enough cash and musical talent to make it, they are waylaid by surprising arrivals - a daughter for Pam and Daniel, a solo hit single for Joe. As the '90s wane, the three friends share in one another's successes, working together to elevate Joe's superstardom and raise baby Flora.
On September 11, 2001, the city's unfathomable devastation coincides with a shattering personal loss for the trio. In the aftermath, Flora comes of age, navigating a charged political landscape and discovering a love of the natural world. Joining the ranks of those fighting for ecological conservation, Flora works to bridge the wide gap between powerful strategists and ordinary Americans, becoming entangled ever more intimately with her fellow activists along the way. And when the country faces an astonishing new threat, Flora's family will have no choice but to look to the past - both to examine wounds that have never healed, and to rediscover strengths they have long forgotten.
At once an elegiac takedown of today's political climate and a touching invocation of humanity's goodness, Doxology offers daring revelations about America's past and possible future that could only come from Nell Zink, one of the sharpest novelists of our time.
A story of Pam, Daniel and Joe playing punk music (badly) in the late 80s New York may not sound like a premise that leaves much room for play, but in typical Nell Zink fashion this is more and so much more. Pam, a wannabe musician and computer programmer, meets Joe, an unassuming misfit who accepts everyone at face value and sees the good (or the beautiful) in most situations, on the city streets. They strike up an unlikely friendship and when Pam realises he can play almost any instrument a band is formed, with the third link being the attractive Daniel, a young graduate (who works as a translator at night) who thinks starting a record company is his prescribed future. While Pam and Daniel get together and in a short time are young parents to baby Flora, Joe is noticed and picked up as a cult celeb musician. Laced through this story of girl-meets-boy, girl-makes-a-band, are the characters' respective childhoods and coming-of-age stories in 1980s America. This is Jonathan Franzen territory with cultural context building layers of meaning, but Zink is more biting and funnier. The first half of this novel reminded me of Jennifer Egan’s excellent A Visit From the Goon Squad, with its references to cultural icons. Into this Zink brings the political realities of America in the Middle East during the Gulf War, and the changing cultural landscape with the introduction and growing use of the internet. It feels, understandably, like a different time, but for most of us — our time. The second half of the book focuses on Flora’s story. When 9/11 happens Daniel packs up his family and they decamp to Pam’s parents in Washington State. Flora, used to traipsing around the streets and going to gig venues with her parents or being babysat by atypical Joe, is charmed by suburbia and decides to stay with her grandparents when Pam and Daniel return to the city. The 9/11 terror attack is a turning point in the book: not only does Flora seek out a different lifestyle, but her parents are also surprisingly content to shape their lives without an ‘everyday’ child in it and Joe has died due to an accidental overdose, leaving a gap in their triangle. As we follow Flora through her teen years as a dedicated student and on to university, graduating in soil sciences and an eco-consciousness, it is no surprise to find her wrapped up in the political landscape of 2016 as a volunteer campaigner for the Greens. If you have read Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion, you will recognise the themes of eco and gender politics. As Flora is embracing with optimism (and increasing doubt) the world that could be (and experimenting with relationships), Pam is increasing cynical about the political and social landscapes of contemporary America. So, while we are reading and knowing the outcome of that general election, Doxology reminds us that no one (apart from a few — in this case, the jaded strategist Bull Gooch) expected Trump. Nell Zink’s Doxology is clever. An apparently straightforward plot following the lives of this family group laid across the landscape of America from the late 80s to recent years, it’s deceptively cutting of acceptable behaviour in society and lays bare the hypocrisy of politics and human actions. And it’s very funny. There are observations of human behaviour that will make you, as a reader, stop mid-paragraph to laugh and then wonder why and how you can laugh at these small tragedies. If you haven’t read Zink previously (and you like your fiction sharp, hilarious and provocative) do so now and there is plenty more to discover (Nicotine and Mislaid are my favourites).