Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: "The Nix" by Nathan Hill

I’ve been lucky enough these past few years to read at least one book a year that simply announces itself and it author as loudly as possible. Last year, that book was Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire, and this year, that book is another debut novel, Nathan Hill’s wondrous and big-hearted first novel, The Nix. The comparison on the back is very apt, because the novel’s complexity, intricate plotting and emotional impact are very reminiscent of the best of John Irving like The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany, all of which tell big yet intimate stories tinged with just the slightest, even ambiguous amount of otherworldliness that not only grounds the story, making it believable but also allows the themes it presents to transcend the novel itself, making for a memorable story that will stick with you. That otherworldly quality is right in the title. The Nix is a Norwegian folktale about a horse that leads wayward children to their doom. But in the real world, and what is taught to our fascinating and empathetic protagonist, a nix is any person who we love that eventually disappoints, abandons or destroys us, leaving us changed irrevocably. At the start of the novel, Samuel Andresen-Anderson (a clever name in my opinion) is in the rut to end all ruts. He is a disrespected teacher of literature at a small college and the only joy in his life comes from playing an online game called Elfscape. A lawyer representing his long lost mother who abandoned his family years ago who recently made headlines by attacking a right wing political candidate contacts him, wanting Samuel’s help. Samuel at first declines the offer, but when he finds himself in a bit of financial trouble, he agrees to help out his mom, and in doing so, goes on a journey to uncover his mom’s past and how her life, as well as the lives of a few others, connect to make a beautiful web of love, loss and hope. The novel switches gears a lot but it never misses a beat. Along with the present story in 2011, with the highlight being a hilarious section where Samuel’s accusations towards a female student who he believes plagiarized is sectioned off with every logical fallacy. We also learn about Sam’s early life, his relationship with the troubled Bishop and his beautiful twin sister Bethany, and the love of Samuel’s life. A lot of the story also traces the life of Sam’s mother Faye, and how her troubles in the 60’s she feels stem from a story her father told her about the eponymous creature, which she thinks attacked her one night. It is a startling and mazing section of the book, one that reminded me of the supposedly haunted dress mannequin Owen sees watching John’s mother in Irving’s novel. To watch these stories meld together, along with said cheaters, a vengeful judge and one of Samuel’s online companions, is great and wonderful. Always interesting, fast-paced and easily relatable, this is the novel of the year and one you want to pick up as soon as possible.

Rating: 5/5

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