Originally published January 2017
There are good books. There are great books. And then there are those books.
Those books seem to come along once every year or two. Books that really deserve both their critical and popular acclaim. You know—like Gone Girl, The Art of Fielding, A Little Life, The Night Circus … The Nix is one of those books.
Be forewarned—it’s a big one. But not in any kind of audacious, self-important, “I’m going to prove myself as an author” kind of way. It’s just a whale of a story, centered around the fractured relationship between Faye Andresen and her son, Samuel. When Faye gains notoriety as “The Packer Attacker” for going rogue on a potential ultra-conservative presidential candidate, it’s up to Samuel to save his own professional future by making hay of his mother’s trespasses.
Author Nathan Hill takes us from Summer 2011 back into the 80s, suburban Chicago-style, where young Samuel struggles with crying jags, dissatisfied parents and a rebellious, criminal new friend—whose twin sister is the stuff worthy of first love. As his mother slowly disappears from view, Bethany comes into sight, only to disappear as well. And even more abruptly. Not the kind of material that makes for a happy childhood.
We also become privy to Faye’s childhood, her panic attacks, her relationship with Samuel’s dad Henry and the complicated, you-didn’t-see-it-coming kind of turns that bring her back into Samuel’s orbit decades later. Typically, when a large swath of characters are introduced in a book, it seems there are one or two not as smartly drawn by the author. But not here—from Samuel’s agent Periwinkle to his hot mess of a student, Laura Pottsdam, to his hot mess of an online friend in Pwange, every life somehow tied to Samuel’s has both purpose and presence. There are no throwaway characters here.
And while it’s definitely a thinking reader’s story, it’s one of those books because it’s completely accessible. Unlike some authors that try to stuff a metaphor into every paragraph, Hill’s writing is such that you “get it” without taxing the brain. And the plot is such that you’ll never become bored. While there was at least one, maybe two scenarios where you kinda knew what was going on and what was about to happen, there are more than a handful you won’t see coming—and they make the story amazing.
And, between Laura’s Pottsdam’s multi-page excuse for a plagarized paper, and, I shit you not, a 10-page single sentence about giving up video games, the story’s creativity is off the charts. I loved every delicious moment. Read this. Read this now.