Blurbs from The Wallcreeper‘s cover will tell you its author, Nell Zink, has a literary pedigree. They aren’t wrong. Both the endorsement from Jonathan Franzen and the comparison to Don DeLillo are well-deserved. Zink has mastered the art of writing the weirdness of postmodern human interaction.
Wallcreeper follows narrator Tiffany as she navigates her poor life choices, not the least of which is Stephen: her bird-obsessed scientist husband, whom she married after a three-week-long courtship. Tiffany and Stephen replace their miscarried child with Rudolf – as in Hess – the wallcreeper and the reason for Tiffany’s termination. Nicknamed Rudi, the bird-child becomes problematic when his lack of sexual contact results in violent and erratic outbursts.
Zink doesn’t differentiate between Rudi’s sexual desires and those of her human characters. In Wallcreeper, there is no unproblematic sex. The novel practically opens with a not-entirely-consensual fisting scene, and rides – pun definitely intended – on the backs of Tiffany’s interactions with her extramarital lovers.
Lest readers be confused, allow me to say that Zink’s novel is in no way a romance, not even in the ill-fated manner of a Madame Bovary or a Revolutionary Road. The titular Wallcreeper doesn’t feel love, and neither do Tiffany and company. Zink’s novel questions if we are capable of loving another person at all in the way we think we can. Its characters create no lasting sexual or romantic bonds with each other, but each is perilously bound to his or her work and personal interests. Love, in The Wallcreeper, is not duty or devotion to another living thing, but to an idea or ideal.
Most importantly, Zink’s novel acts as a call-to-arms to women everywhere who have followed husbands and lovers down disinteresting paths. Tiffany takes on the interests and ideals of her paramours, but never seems to display any of her own choosing. What we see, ultimately, is a portrait of a woman whose capacity for jadedness extends even to her own thoughts.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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Image credit: Birdwatching Barcelona/Flickr