In 1960s America, young Peggy has barely arrived in her small-town university before she’s swept into an improbably affair with Lee, her poetry professor. She’s lesbian and he’s gay, but they share a brief passion, which results in a pregnancy, and a loveless marriage.
After years of enduring his neglect and unfaithfulness, Peggy escapes the marriage with her three-year-old daughter, while the couple’s nine-year-old son refuses to come along.
To hide away safely from her influential husband, Peggy changes her and her daughter’s name – from Mireille to Karen – and pretends that they are African-American. As the siblings grow up apart from each other, each must contend with the parent that they have been left with.
Eventually, Karen ends up at the University of Virginia on a minority scholarship, where her older brother Byrdie is also enrolled. They are, of course, destined to meet.
Praised by critics for its absurdism, and its takes on sexuality and race, Nell Zink’s novel Mislaid was longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award.
“Her work insistently raises the possibility that the world is larger and stranger than the world you think you know. You might not want to believe this, but her sentences and stories are so strong and convincing that you’ll have no choice,” novelist Jonathan Franzen has said of Zink.
“A deceptively slim epic of family life that rivals a Greek tragedy in drama and wisdom…deftly handles race, sexuality, and coming of age,” says a starred review of the novel in Publisher’s Weekly.
Published in 2015.