Book of the Day: “The Nix” by Nathan Hill
It is clear that the ideas behind The Nix have been swimming around in first-time novelist Nathan Hill’s head for many years. Deriving its title from the name of a Norwegian spirit that takes people away from the ones they love, this 640-page novel takes on just about everything—including pop culture, advertising, trigger warnings, politics, the degradation of literature, ghosts and the obsession with cell phones. Hill weaves these elements into a charged mother-son story with great poise and humor.
It’s 2011 and Chicago English professor Samuel Andresen–Anderson learns that his mother, Faye, who abandoned the family when he was 11, has been arrested for throwing gravel at a right-wing presidential candidate. Since he owes his publisher another book, Samuel decides he can help his mother—whom he hasn’t seen since she left—and himself by writing an exposé on the woman behind the most-viewed YouTube clip of the moment.
Samuel visits Faye’s Iowa hometown and the Chicago suburbs, searching for fragments of his mother’s story. Hill explores Faye’s past via many angles: flashbacks to dangerous Chicago protests in 1968, Samuel’s memories and even the point-of-view of Faye’s Parkinson’s-ridden father. In these alternating sections, the reader discovers the details about Faye’s life that Samuel longs for.
The Nix is a slow burn of a novel that explores the importance of empathy, family dynamics and dysfunction. When Samuel begins to understand his mother, he understands himself. Both laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly poignant, The Nix will be known as a great American novel.
This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of BookPage.