Review: The Nix by Nathan Hill

the-nix5b15dNathan Hill’s sweeping debut “The Nix” [2016] reads like a Franzen/Pynchon/DeLillo hybrid: an epic 600-page masterpiece that fuses recent American history with a contemporary family drama (and a touch of the mythological), which finds time to satirise various elements of pop culture, as well as politics, publishing and academia. Everything is laced with equal parts humour and empathy, every one of its characters and plot elements woven together so silkily and luridly, Hill’s infectiously vivacious prose solidifying this as fiction of the highest quality. There are only a handful of books I’ve loved as much as this one.

The protagonist is Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a disgruntled writer teaching English at college, more interested in playing online role-playing games than working on the manuscript he’s owed his publisher for years. Unfortunately, as “The Nix” opens, it’s too late: Samuel’s publisher is reneging on their deal, and intends to sue Samuel for his advance. Any appeal he had as a young, hot writer has long evaporated. His story no longer matters — until his mother, Faye, who abandoned Samuel as a boy, lobs a rock at a right-wing presidential candidate, Sheldon Packer, and becomes headline news: “The Packer Attacker.”

Faye’s story is one every media outlet wants, and Samuel has the inside track. The grief and trauma of her desertion derailed the trajectory of his life. He’s less interested in why his mother targeted Packer now than he is why she left him then. And so “The Nix” unspools through disparate timelines, dissecting Samuel’s and Faye’s lives, exposing their individual adversities and tragedies, bound — possibly — by the eponymous “Nix,” a  wicked shapeshifting spirit from Nordic folklore.

The book is probably a tad overlong, with focus pulled too often to side characters, who add to novel’s texture without necessarily making it richer. There’s already so much here — Vietnam, the 1968 Chicago Riots, the GFC, the Iraq War, and more — that regular intermissions into the lives of, for example, Samuel’s online friend ‘Pwnage’ are unnecessary detours. But honestly, I rarely noticed its page length, and always appreciated its thematic breadth. Hill has crafted an ambitious character study of discontentment and drive, and the lengths to which some of us will go to in the hopes for a better life.

ISBN: 9781509807840
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 640
Published: 27th September 2016
Publisher: Pan Macmillan

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