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The Nix by Nathan Hill. Book Review

February 7, 2017

the-nix

Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a college professor with writer’s block, is suddenly reunited with his mother Faye who he has not seen for years, when she throws a handful of rocks at Governor Sheldon Packer, and gains notoriety as the ‘Packer Attacker’.

Samuel’s inability to produce a new book has put him in breach of contract and the only way to stop the publisher suing is to write his mother’s biography, because she is now a newsworthy item. This is not the only cloud on Samuel’s horizon, as a female student whose assignment Samuel will not sign off, because of its plagiarism, attempts to disgrace him in order to get the grades she needs.

It is not a joyful reunion with his mother, and as Samuel’s life begins to unravel he embarks on a journey to discover what happened in the past to the woman who abandoned him as a child. He also comes face-to-face with his own past and a possible chance this time to reunite with his lost love.

There is definitely a sense of Infinite Jest as you work through the cast of colourful characters in The Nix (all of whom are flawed in the most interesting ways), and the fly on the wall observations of their inner lives. The Nix is more succinct and the observations make it more of an intimate experience than Infinite Jest, rather than feeling as if you are observing from a distance as you would a film or TV programme. Each of the characters represents something of our society today.

Nathan Hill uses the type of humour which is delivered with pitch-perfect description, and makes you wince at the same time because there is so much there you will recognise in others or yourself. It is certainly a cutting and very elegant satire on consumerism and today’s society.

The part of the book set in the sixties, revolving around Samuel’s mother, Faye, offers a change of pace and does not display the same powerful writing style of that of the present day. But it provides important backstory as to why Faye became the wife and mother she was, as well as the ‘Packer Attacker’.

This is a book about choices and how the choices made even before someone is born might have a powerful influence on their life. In Samuel’s case it all begins with his grandfather, whose actions ripple all the way down to Samuel, who is at the epicentre of rapidly changing events over which, try as he might, he appears powerless to alter. Samuel’s life might have all the hallmark of the type of car crash which keeps you glued to the pages right to the end to see if he may in some way be redeemed from the powerful force hurling him through his chaotic and as yet unfulfilled life.

The Nix was courtesy of Pan Macmillan via NetGalley

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