Review – The Nix by Nathan Hill

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Review – The Nix by Nathan Hill

I first heard about this book in The Washington Post, the reviewer starts with a comparison between minor character Governor Packer and Donald Trump. Another review in The New York Times claims this book was inspired by Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. Not only am I a fan of both writers, but I thought this book was going to contain social commentary about this year’s election cycle. Also, I’m always happy to check out what is proclaimed as the next big thing in literature, so I whipped out my credit card and bought the Kindle edition. After reading the book however, I did find both of these observations to be a little off base. Governor Packer, whose role in the book is not very significant, actually reminded me less of Trump and more like an evangelical, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry type figure. The book is also much too light to be anything like a Pynchon or Wallace novel (though it might match in length), and in my opinion it is more similar to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth: both books are character-driven, multi-generational family sagas, narrated by a comic voice and offering of an ambitious range of themes.

What I liked most about this book is that it is devotedly focused on its characters and the empathy that is shed for them, Author Nathan Hill paints both sides of the story and creates a lot of humor while doing so. The book starts out with Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a jaded English professor who uses an online MMORPG as a coping mechanism for life, when his mother, Faye, who abandoned him in his adolescence, suddenly gets into trouble and needs her son’s help. Though Samuel initially declines, the rest of the book shows how Samuel comes to understand why his mother did what she did, that things are not always as they seem, and reconciliation between mother and son takes place. Hill also shows his range by following other characters that come in and out of this narrative, my favorites including Pwnage, a malnourished man with a heart of gold that is horribly addicted to gaming, and Laura Pottsdam, an entitled, almost sociopathic college student who will say or do anything to get Samuel to accept her plagiarized essay on Hamlet.

The theme of protest also plays a large part in the book, as parallels are made between the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago and the 2011 Occupy Wall St. protests in New York, yet the message isn’t political as much as it is suggestive of the timeless, cyclical nature of things, that regardless of one’s generation there will always be something to be unhappy and protest about. Hill’s prose is clean and hypnotic, and the book is something of a page-turner. I was so distracted at times while walking in the Singapore metro. Though I usually enjoy a book that has more weight, the substance in this book is definitely there, and the effort by no means was a lazy one. Though my expectations of this book were not met, I was still pleasantly surprised and very much enjoyed The Nix.

Hill, Nathan. The Nix. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. Kindle.

The Washington Post review    The New York Times review

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