It is small, 5"x7" and less than 200 pages. I loved the feel of this little book in my hands - for some reason it gave me great pleasure, just the slightly difference size and that odd, odd cover art. I stared at the book for some time before I cracked it open, enjoying the possibility of reading a great book.
Zink's voice is brilliant and hilarious - she zips around, handily tying together the seemingly disparate elements of marriage, sex, bird-watching, environmental activism and European travel. The main character is Tiffany, married to Stephen, an ex-DJ, bird-watcher, and semi-scientist upon whom she financially depends. Stephen says that birds' lives are all about "breeding and feeding" and Tiffany jokes that that's all she does too. Tiffany works hard to cultivate the idea that she cannot or should not work. "Women are ubiquitous, invasive - the same subspecies from the Palearctic to Oceania. Trash birds." However, she seems to gradually become as interested in birds as her husband, and in fact, they bring home a bird, called a wallcreeper, which they keep in their apartment until it begins to molt. She also eventually becomes quite devoted to Stephen's environmental activism, taking it upon herself to commit an act of eco-terrorism.
There are a few interviews with Zink online which show her to be a witty smartass, two very fine qualities. In one, she says, "I wanted to communicate vital topics in nature conservation to men and women in their thirties, the leaders of tomorrow, by wrapping them up in sophisticated language and conflicted sex. It worked for the first few pages. After that I had some personal setbacks and continued it as a tortured autobiography in impenetrable code." I believe it is that reference toward autobiography that has led at least one critic to announce the advent of a new genre: the Autofiction (beware that link, there's a major spoiler). That critic also ceremoniously declares the death of the Postmodern fiction, no less, which I find insanely premature. What he's calling Autofiction, or fiction greatly influenced by the author's own experience, has, of course, been written throughout the history of the novel, particularly if you believe, as I mostly do, that every piece of art is a self-portrait. In the post-modern age, that is a very unpopular opinion, and most artists, especially authors of books, will go to great lengths to impress upon you that what they have written is purely fictional. I mean, all I'm saying is that it's impossible to separate that thing which is you from work you have created. I think there's too great an instinct to belittle work which is influenced by the author's experience, which I see as mostly a way to belittle work created by women (which is to say, that work created by men is generally seen as universal and work created by women is perceived as more personal). I honestly hope that we're finally entering a post-James Frey world where it isn't considered non grata to be actually impacted by personal experience.
Zink has a new book coming out in 2015 called Mislaid. It also appears to feature "breeding" as a major theme, which generally I'm not a big fan of. Too many authors don't know what to do with women characters except get them pregnant. But, I think what Zink is doing, at least I hope, is looking deeper into this ability and expectation of producing offspring and finding a way to broaden the possibilities of creative output of women. In any event, she's brilliant, and I look forward to reading more of her work.