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Book Review – Nicotine

“Souls are nomads. They see the hurricane coming, they hit the road.”

This was one of the most perplexing reads. And by perplexing, I mean I didn’t understand nearly fifty percent of it. 

Nicotine follows the chaotic life of a young woman who inherits her airy-fairy father’s childhood home, only to find its been inhabited by squatters for years and affectionately named Nicotine for their shared enjoyment of cigarettes and chew.

This book was populated completely by anarchists, activists, pretentious assholes, promiscuous sex kittens, and confused millennials, and to say I didn’t relate would be an understatement. But it was one wild ride reading as they interacted and picked fights with each other and the government. One wild, winding, and never-ending ride.

There was a large disconnect, in that, the majority of the dialogue went over my head. So much talk about subjects I haven’t even begun to orbit in my realm of consciousness so I was just forced to read it without understanding and hope I could keep up with the story. 

And I never lost track of the story. Thus, I have to say a lot of these conversations, a lot of the dialogue was maybe unnecessary. Yes, I get the idea as a whole. It’s a piece of satire, designed to poke fun at the current political climate, including what those hailing from the 60s, 70s, and 80s widely don millennials, who take so much and give so little.

As a millennial myself, I think the mid-life crisis dwellers are mistaken. I’m not selfish without reason, nor do I do nothing and expect everything. 

“I reacted all wrong,” she says. “Somebody nice sent me an intimate personal e-mail, and I wrote back asking for money!” 

An obvious stab right there, folks.

This was a book I lost interest in at times, but couldn’t put down at others. I found I enjoyed it more when I didn’t allow myself to feel so bewildered by the incessant back-and-forth among the squatters. There wasn’t usually a resolution, just non-stop I think this, you think that, we don’t agree, let’s move on.

When I just focused on the relationships, the plot, the way the story progressed, the prose, I really did begin to like it. It may have taken me about 150 pages to find a rhythm in my reading, but I did it, I found a connection to the characters, to our main character Penny, who was as hopelessly romantic as her circumstances, which is something I can relate to. 

They say little–two small women in a huge house, dwarfed by its vastness, its oversize, overstuffed furnishings, its large trees, its chaotic megacity, its largely empty universe. 

I know I didn’t pick up all the jokes. All the subtleties. It would’ve been impossible to fully digest this read. And had I been forced to, I can promise you I would’ve hated this book. It was hugely imaginative and inventive, a story I can’t begin to understand the landscape of, and it was better admired from afar.

“I want for it to be 1951, and for you to be a root beer float.”

“But instead of giving him real drugs, they kept wanting him to be alert, so he could make his peace with God. I always thought religious people were annoying. Now I know they’re evil.”

The prose was magnificent. Absolutely. It had highs and lows, but some really profound moments that left me in awe. This author really experimented and explored the outskirts of her writing abilities. There were so many places where you just had to admire her attempts at originality, because at least she was trying. Trying to be funky and weird, to manage the mess of ideas bouncing around her head.

“Follow me to where the shooting stars lie still. I saw them falling, he said, in cascades of living fire. There in the hillside village, they lay where they fell.”

The thoughts are like serrated knives in her heart, put there and twisted by the force that powers the universe: love.

She composes absentmindedly, like a teenager drafting a diary entry he plans to delete–deep feelings, too worthless to matter much. 

And what’s even stronger than the truth? Warm bodies to defend it. Facts on the ground. 

I really liked the desperation for love you picked up from Penny. She was a really honest character when it came to her emotions. I had the distinct feeling that the other characters were in active avoidance of their emotions, but Penny was a young woman in the twenties befallen love–hopeless and reckless. Acting as if she’s drunk. So needy, she became irritable.

We all understand Penny, even if we’ve chosen to remain cavalier. 

The relationships were a little different, they happened in such a rush, that I didn’t have time to feel any type of way about them until they were fully developed.

Basically, Penny walks into Nicotine, and because of the environment, the way the activists and anarchists welcome anybody into their space without much thought, they became fast friends, so fast, Penny was moving into a squat a few streets away practically five days after initially making their acquaintance.

That, was something I could not relate to. It was also something I thought wasn’t necessary perceived to be a part of millennial culture, as a whole, we tend to be wildly untrusting.

Part of me liked getting into the relationships so fast because it took me away from the impossible dialogue and inner workings of Penny’s brain, which generally threw me for a loop. But a different part of me wanted there to be more tension. 

But she is trapped in this emotional paradox: his conditions means they have nothing in common. Every time they speak of his dying, they become more alien to one another. 

Sunshine seems like such a sane, uncomplicated person compared to Rob, who is ostentatiously coloring an adult coloring book with a single color (black).

The dialogue and the humor were spot on. Even if I didn’t follow it completely. It was like trying to sprint after a Lamborghini–good fucking luck. 

“Did you hear the ocean?”

“Yup. It’s right in there where you left it.” He returns the shell to its place on the bookcase.

All in all, I liked this book. I was fully immersed as I neared the end, not wanting put it down. The characters weren’t relatable, but I’d hate to relate to them at the same time. They make choices and decisions I hope I never have to. And they’re up against impossible battles, which is why, to the outsider looking in, they seem incredibly misguided. They’re fighting for something, and that’s all that matters. 






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