The Nix

Nathan Hill

The Nix
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The Nix

Nathan Hill

Meet Samuel Andresen-Anderson: stalled writer, bored teacher at a local college, obsessive player of online video games. He hasn’t seen his mother, Faye, in decades, not since she abandoned her family when he was a boy. Now she has suddenly reappeared, having committed an absurd politically-motivated crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the Internet, and inflames a divided country.

The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.

As Samuel begins to excavate his mother’s - and his country’s - history, the story moves from the rural Midwest of the 1960s, to New York City during the Great Recession and the Occupy Wall Street movement, and back to the infamous riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention. Finally, the trail leads him to wartime Norway, home of the mysterious Nix that his mother told him about as a child, a spirit that can take the shape of a white horse, luring children to their deaths.

And in these places, Samuel will unexpectedly find that he has to rethink everything he ever knew about his mother - a woman with an epic story of her own, a story she has kept hidden from the world.

Review

While Nathan Hill’s debut novel The Nix is certainly ambitious, given that it contains the Chicago riots of 1968, the invasion of Iraq, the recent Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as online gaming, a new, minimal, social media, growing up in the suburbs of the ’80s and, most notably, Norwegian ghosts, what binds this huge novel together is its cynical and somewhat ironic world-view.

You could chalk this up to the influence of Samuel Adresen-Anderson, the book’s main protagonist, a bored lit teacher who once had great promise as a writer, and who has managed to swing a large advance and a position at a college on a book that he never wrote. Now he’s bored and mostly stays in his office playing an online role-playing game until the small hours.

When his publisher threatens to sue him into bankrupcy, Samuel promises to write a book about his mother, who abandoned him as a child and has recently resurfaced in his life after being arrested for attacking a conservative senator with some gravel.

As Samuel investigates the mother he never knew, we get a mix of characters and storylines including: fraternal twins, one of them a violin prodigy and love of Samuel’s life, the other a bully and Samuel’s best friend; two students making moves to get Samuel fired; a handful of activists; a policeman obsessed with Samuel’s mother and role-playing power user who is constantly failing to get his life together.

While the book is definitely a comedy, what slowly emerges is an intricate portrait of a mother and son, both trying to deal with the lackluster turnout of their lives. In its strongest moments the novel also becomes something much weirder, inventive and even touching. The Nix is definitely a ride worth taking.


Chris Somerville works for the online team at Readings.

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