Book Review: The Nix

Like Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, The Nix (by Writers’ Week–bound author Nathan Hill) has had a certain hype surrounding it as a great modern American novel.

Whether it will have the lasting effect of Franzen’s 2001 family epic or will disappear from public consciousness like Harbach’s, albeit brilliant, sporting and literature tome is unclear, but what is clear is that Hill has written a zeitgeist–capturing American novel that is made all the more relevant by the presidential election of the right wing populist Trump.

Beginning like a multi–generational American family epic in the tradition of The Corrections and Franzen’s follow–up Freedom, The Nix tells the story of Samuel Andresen–Anderson, a struggling writer who hasn’t been able to deliver his debut novel after a well–received short story and generous advance that he has spent.

Instead of being a great American writer, he teaches literature at a college and spends his free time playing the World of Warcraft–like World of Elfscape. Then he gets a call from his agent who tells him that his mother (Faye), who he hasn’t spoken to in decades after she left Samuel and his dad when he was young, is in trouble. She is all over the news, although Samuel hasn’t noticed due to his online gaming world, as she attacked a populist far right wing presidential candidate. Since Samuel hasn’t delivered his promised novel, he has a new task: to write an expose of his mother.

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The novel switches from present day Chicago to Samuel’s childhood in the ‘80s to Faye’s childhood in the Mid West. But this isn’t Franzen–lite territory where Hill just delves into the family history archives. Hill has a few tricks up his sleeve by introducing new characters far removed from the Andresen–Anderson family and playing with form, as a few chapters are written like a choose–your–own–adventure story.

The Nix excels after Samuel discovers more about his mother’s lost month that was spent at a university in Chicago in 1968 which lands her in the middle of the riots during the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention and the hippie revolution movement.

Part family drama and part dark and comical look at America from the ‘50s American dream to the ‘60s counterculture movement to Occupy Wall Street and the rise of social media, The Nix is a fascinating journey through the last 50 years of America.

Author: Nathan Hill
Publisher: Picador

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