Hill's debut novel, a sprawling 600-plus page epic, centers around the estranged relationship between a mother and the son she abandoned when he was a boy, and alternates between three distinct time periods — present day, suburbia in the 1980s, and 1968-era Chicago. I was amazed at Hill's insights into the human psyche, since he mined some of my deepest thoughts and fears, even ones I thought might never be unearthed. Hill devotes a few sporadic chapters to ancillary characters, which helps to fully flesh out all of the intertwined narratives. I can't recommend it enough! Recommended By Candice B., Powells.com
I love a book that seizes you. This sweeping, absurd, sharp, funny, astounding tale will do just that. Go with it. Recommended By Britt A., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
"The Nix is a mother-son psychodrama with ghosts and politics, but it’s also a tragicomedy about anger and sanctimony in America....Nathan Hill is a maestro." — John Irving
A Nix can take many forms. In Norwegian folklore, it is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse that steals children away. In Nathan Hill’s remarkable first novel, a Nix is anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart.
It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson—college professor, stalled writer—has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she’s re-appeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the internet, and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.
To save her, Samuel will have to embark on his own journey, uncovering long-buried secrets about the woman he thought he knew, secrets that stretch across generations and have their origin all the way back in Norway, home of the mysterious Nix. As he does so, Samuel will confront not only Faye’s losses but also his own lost love, and will relearn everything he thought he knew about his mother, and himself.
From the suburban Midwest to New York City to the 1968 riots that rocked Chicago and beyond, The Nix explores—with sharp humor and a fierce tenderness—the resilience of love and home, even in times of radical change.
"Place Nathan Hill’s engrossing, skewering, and preternaturally timely tale beside the novels of Tom Wolfe, John Irving, Donna Tartt, and Michael Chabon....Cartwheeling among multiple narrators, The Nix spins the galvanizing stories of three generations derailed in unexpected ways....Hill takes aim at hypocrisy, greed, misogyny, addiction, and vengeance with edgy humor and deep empathy in a whiplashing mix of literary artistry and compulsive readability." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] sparkling, sweeping debut novel that takes in a large swath of recent American history and pop culture and turns them on their sides....There are hints of Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys as Hill, by way of his narrative lead, wrestles alternately converging and fugitive stories onto the page, stories that range from the fjords of Norway to the streets of "Czechago" in the heady summer of 1968. There are also hints of Pynchon, though, as Hill gently lampoons advertising culture, publishing, academia, politics, and everything in between. A grand entertainment, smart and well-paced, and a book that promises good work to come." Kirkus (Starred Review)
“Hill’s first novel offers an ironic view of 21st-century elections, education, pop culture, and marketing, with flashbacks to 1988, 1968, and 1944....The Nix of Hill’s title is a Norwegian mythological being that carries loved ones away, a physical and metaphorical representation of fear and loss, much like the Under Toad in John Irving’s The World According to Garp. Like Irving, Hill skillfully blends humor and darkness, imagery and observation. He also excels at describing technology, addiction, cultural milestones, and childhood ordeals. Cameos by Allen Ginsberg, Walter Cronkite, and Hubert Humphrey add heart and perspective to this rich, lively take on American social conflict, real and invented, over the last half-century." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"There is an accidental topicality in Hill’s debut, about an estranged mother and son whose fates hinge on two mirror-image political events—the Democratic Convention of 1968 and the Republican Convention of 2004. But beyond that hook lies a high-risk, high-reward playfulness with structure and tone: comic set-pieces, digressions into myth, and formal larks that call to mind Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad." New York Magazine
"Once in a while a novel arrives at the perfect moment to reflect, skewer, and provide context for the world as we know it. This—now—is that novel. A satirical, fast-paced romp through time and space, The Nix is ambitious, wide-ranging, and full of surprises. It gathers force and momentum as it speeds toward the end, where all of its pieces fit together as precisely as a puzzle." Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train
About the Author
Nathan Hill's short fiction has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, AGNI, The Gettysburg Review, and Fiction, which awarded him its annual Fiction Prize. A native Iowan, he lives with his wife in Naples, Florida.
Nathan Hill on PowellsBooks.Blog
I was the kind of child who played Dungeons and Dragons alone. In my bedroom, by myself, on long summer afternoons, I sat cross-legged on the floor surrounded by sheets of scrap-paper and dice — both the traditional six-sided dice and the more mathematically complex icosahedral things. I would play as four or five different D&D characters at once...