Equal parts funny and equal parts profound, The Nix – a debut novel by Nathan Hill – is a story about a man, abandoned by his mother as a young boy, and his quest to unearth the secrets of her life which eventually help him to reclaim his own.
Samuel Andresen-Anderson is a writer facing a serious case of writer’s block. When he isn’t procrastinating on his unfinished book, he teaches at a local college, a job he finds boring and unchallenging. Like most individuals dissatisfied with their real lives, he seeks refuge in fantasy and is an obsessive online video game player.
His mother left when he was in middle school and he hasn’t heard from her or about her since. Things change suddenly when he identifies her on the news. She has gone ‘viral’ for footage where she is seen throwing stones at a presidential candidate. Portrayed by the media as a militant radical with a reprehensible past, Samuel’s curiosity is piqued. The little that he knows about her goes against this media version of his mother. It is this that shakes him out his apathy and he is determined to find out the truth. Which woman is really his mother? The radical political protestor or the one he knows about, the one who has never left her home town?
Samuel decides to kill two birds with one stone. He tells his publisher he will write a tell-all biography on his newly famous mother. His publisher readily agrees, seeing the commercial potential, and Samuel finally feels he can get closure, and perhaps his revenge. However, he must first get in touch with her, find her and more importantly, he needs to emotionally prepare himself for the encounter.
Spread across several decades and in regions spanning from the rural Midwest to New York City to Chicago and finally Norway, the book is set in the backdrop of the Great Recession, of Occupy Wall Street and the riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention. Norway is the land that houses the enigmatic Nix, a story told to him by his mother as a child. His remarkable quest throws up unexpected truths, forcing Samuel to question everything he thought he knew about his mother— a woman with a larger-than-life story, which she surprisingly managed to keep hidden from the world, and even those she loved.
One of my favourite things about this book is the characters in it, wholesome, three dimensional characters that are believably flawed, without being stupid. I found my empathy for them changing even as I learnt more about them, and this includes the supporting characters! The storyline itself jumps forwards and backwards quite often, yet the writing is tight so it doesn’t get confusing. Towards the end, everything comes together neatly; however a few questions are indeed left unanswered. Nathan Hill has proved himself to be a master storyteller, he employs numerous writing styles, each so different from the other and yet there’s a subtle undercurrent running through them all, uniting them in a single narrative. From a literary perspective, the book is a pleasure to read, and yet is wholly unpretentious. By the time I finished, I was left with a dull yet sweet ache, the kind that a slow burn kind of read leaves you with, and felt like characters were people I actually knew.
The Nix by Nathan Hill is an expansive, modern, political, and immensely entertaining book. It made for the perfect afternoon read (actually at 600 pages, it takes a few afternoons admittedly) while I sipped on my favourite Organic Rose Green tea. I highly recommend reading this one, and do share your thoughts, I’m eager to know what others think of this book!
Fun fact: There’s a 12-page sentence in this book!
Author: Medha Kulkarni
Medha Kulkarni is a writer and illustrator based out of Germany. You can see more of her work here.