Reviewed by Jennifer Dupree, Circulation Supervisor of the Windham Public Library
Nathan Hill’s “The Nix” is possibly too long, with too many points of view and way too many tangents. There are also too many characters. And, it wraps up too conveniently, although at least no one is perfectly happy. Maybe it’s a little too philosophical in places. But, for any weakness this book has, they are far outweighed by its strengths. This book is smart, funny, and tender. Hill has an incredible amount of compassion for every one of his characters, so much so that as the reader, I had the sense he couldn’t wait to get back to writing them as much as I couldn’t wait to get back to reading about them.
The story opens with Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a literature professor who doesn’t love teaching but does love online gaming. He used to love a girl named Bethany, but that comes later. Samuel’s mother, Faye, leaves Samuel and his father when Samuel is eleven, the same year he falls in love with Bethany. Faye resurfaces just as Samuel’s life is falling apart—he is close to being fired because of a student he accused of plagiarism. The student, Laura, has her own sections, which are the funniest and most scathing.
Faye comes back because she is accused of attacking a right-wing candidate for president. Then we get to learn about Faye, about what brought her to Governor Packer’s event, what made her throw the rocks. We go back to her childhood, to meeting her husband, to her college years and the disastrous riots of 1968 that send her scurrying back home. There are also sections about the gaming world Samuel spends time in and the people he meets there.
There’s Bethany and her brother Bishop and what happened to Bishop and why Samuel will always feel like he failed him. This sounds like a lot, and it is, but Hill’s writing is so precise, you will want to fall into every one of these rabbit holes.
Most of this book is a hilarious social commentary that is provocative and thoughtful. Its shortcomings just don’t matter.