I really didn’t want to read Nathan Hill’s 620 page novel this summer; I think the nix made me do it.
A Nix is a Norwegian mischief maker, a mythical spirit character who can be dangerous. In Nathan Hill’s novel The Nix, a house spirit from Norwegian folktales is only the seasoning adding to the overall flavor of his expansive examination of pretty much everything politically and socially in the 1960s leading to an overwhelming examination of what is wrong with today, politically and socially. The “meat” of his story, however, is about how people overcome their fears and guilt, relate to one another, and are never, ever, who you think they are.
Although Hill’s long Faulkner-like paragraphs ramble to include every detail of scenes I often did not want to know so much about, his characters are funny, human, pathetic, happy, and miserable – all at once – reminiscent of John Updike or Philip Roth. His ability to suddenly jolt with information through switchbacks from the late 1960s to the almost present kept me riveted. His surprises came at times just when I was about to stop reading, but then could not.
What was the book about? So many reviews have been written, some as rambling as the novel itself. In his review for NPR, Jason Sheehan encapsulated the plot:
Hill’s novel is the story of Samuel. Of the boy who became him and the man that he is in 2011, in an Occupy Wall Street America, where he is obsessed with an online videogame called World Of Elfscape and failing at pretty much everything else. But when his vanished mother suddenly reappears on every TV screen in America — this forgotten ’60s hippie radical now emerging as a viral sensation with a handful of gravel and no good explanation — he is given a chance to write a book about her. A hatchet-job in which he, the abandoned son, is contractually obligated to savage his own mother in lurid, tell-all fashion…
The Nix is about a lot of things — about politics and online gaming, about the tenuous friendships of adult men and the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It is a vicious, black-hearted and beautiful satire of youth and middle-age, feminine hygiene products, frozen foods and social media. But more than anything, it is a treatise on the ways that the past molds us and breaks us and never lets us go. How it haunts us all.
Read Sheehan’s complete review here
Not everyone will agree that reading a novel over 600 pages is worth the time – remember The Goldfinch? I liked that book too. But, for me, The Nix became a book I had to finish – not only to find out how lives finally resolved, but just to catch more of the humor and wisdom between the lines. Not for everyone, but I’m glad I listened to a fellow reader and fell in.