The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

The Wallcreeper is narrated by Tiffany, we see the novel completely through her eyes. It’s a powerful book, and not in a way I think I can accurately put into words. It begins with a miscarriage, which sets the tone for a series of events where Tiffany is put secondary to the whims of the people around her – especially to the whims of men.

Tiffany is married to Stephen, but they are in an open relationship where each has a lover outside the primary partnership. Occasionally a lover threatens the balance, but Tiffany and Stephen manage to overcome them.

‘”Wait a second,” I said. “I don’t mean to sound like a crank, but are you saying that what makes our relationship valuable is my willingness to suffer for you?”‘

Tiff lives through the men she is with, whether that be her husband Stephen or any of her lovers. She is so often part of an ‘us’, she doesn’t know how to function as a ‘me’.

“Stephen’s grief humanised him. I began to fall in love.”

The men expect sex in exchange for love – sexual acts that make her uncomfortable, but that she thought she wanted. It’s assumed by the men she will enjoy it, and it kills her affection for them. She’s made to feel guilty for not letting them.

“Now, all my life I had fantasized about being used sexually in every way I could think of on the spur of the respective moment. How naïve I was, I said to myself. In actuality this was like using a bedpan on the kitchen counter.”

What Tiffany doesn’t realise, that when she fantasizes, she is in control, she dictates what arouses her. However, in reality, she has almost no control of her sexuality when these fantasies are enacted.

You feel as though she is a feminist weighed down by her more patriarchal choices, she is struggling to be both the perfect feminist woman, and the perfect woman according to patriarchal values. She is caught in the middle.

And this barely scrapes the surface about what Zink is saying about society and the people Tiffany encounters. This is the one section that was more obvious than the many, many layers of subtext this novel offers.

It’s short and powerful, I recommend you read it.

6 thoughts on “The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

  1. I’ve been wanting to read this since I’ve seen it come up on some award lists. You make it sound like a really intriguing story about identity and I want to read it even more now.


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