The Coin by Yasmin Zaher - review by Molly Pepper Steemson

Molly Pepper Steemson

Confessions of a Trust Fund Baby

The Coin


Footnote Press 240pp £14.99

The Coin tells the story of a wealthy Palestinian woman living in Brooklyn and teaching poor black boys in Manhattan who spirals into a breakdown caused in part by OCD. She has very few possessions and wears exclusively designer clothes. She carries her trust fund allowance in cash. She’s preoccupied with sex as an idea but uninspired by it in reality. She gets caught up, briefly, in a scheme buying and reselling Birkin handbags.

Zaher is at her best when she’s brutal. There’s a fantastically concise (and all the more horrific for it) at-home ear-piercing scene, the culmination of a day’s plotting and spending. At one point, the narrator describes discarding the plants she has spent a chapter trying to save. She does it with a fatal final sentence: ‘when I later decided to do away with them, the massacre was silent.’

The chapters are short and Zaher uses them to commit all sorts of savagery. Memories of the narrator’s long-dead mother – ‘My mother was fairer than me, her hair longer, her nose bigger, her face wider, her heels higher’ – crescendo through one three-page chapter. The next begins, ‘That evening, I kept my promise and let Sasha eat my pussy with butter.’ The contrast isn’t a shock tactic or a gimmick. Zaher is being honest: a woman can still be horny, even if her mother is dead. The other device on which Zaher depends is the direct address to the reader: ‘We are getting to know each other’; ‘Yes, I’m talking to you.’ Such statements emphasise the extent of the narrator’s madness, but often feel crowbarred in. There are fewer of them in the second half of the book, which benefits from their omission. 

The Coin is a novel about consumption and abstention, aspiration and America. It’s scatological, critical and political. It’s disgusting but also chic, which makes it great fun to read. It is, in my opinion, excellent.

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