At the station I was confronted with posters advertizing The Nix for months and months. It took ages for the novel to arrive through the library, I was definitely not the only one wanting to read it. In such cases I always worry the hype might be bigger than the novel itself. In this case I had no need to worry, The Nix was worth the long wait. In it Nathan Hill links a rather far-fetched act of terrorism to the lives of Faye and her son Samuel. Hill switches effortlessly between Faye growing up in the sixties, ending up unintended in student revolts, and Samuel facing the now. Not having lived up to expectations as a promising young writer, he has to settle for being a professor at a rather mediocre college. He spends most of his time thinking of the woman he has adored his entire life, violinist Bethany, and playing a video game for hours and hours.
Step by step Hill reveals the truth behind the moment in which Faye throws gravel at a would-be presidential candidate. Each story line has a purpose, each character has a role to play in the events leading to this supposedly act of terrorism, providing Hill with a perfect stage to make us look critically at our modern age and time. The passage in which student Laura tells Samuel why she has been forced to plagiarize her essay is brilliant and could have been part of sitcom Girls easily. Gamer Pwnage is a loser in the real world, as super elf he is triumphant. He dedicates many hours to his favourite game, causing his body to fail gradually.
I loved this novel in which several story lines come together effortlessly and in which proto-type characters are developed to the point they become convincing. The people in The Nix are not perfect, they, with a single exception, are rather ordinary people trying to live their ordinary lives. Faye becomes a security risk because of intrigues and political aspirations she has no part in whatsoever. She just happens to be present when jealousy and ambition exact their toll. She is made into an example of our vulnerability in a complex society controlled by fear of what might happen.
The Nix reminded me of Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, one of the quintessential novels of the eighties. I hope Hills debut will not be a one only. If he keeps up the good work, he might follow into the path of born story-tellers like Charles Dickens, John Irving or David Mitchell who unravel story-lines into one gratifying finale. Don’t miss The Nix, I’d say.