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Nathan Hill, The Nix Big Thing

One of the perks (and there are many) of working at the library is the Advanced Readers Copy mini-library that we have in our staff room. Publishers send ARCs to libraries, book critics, the media, etc. in hopes that the works will be read, reviewed, and shared before the book comes out- hoping to create some buzz and get people talking about it.

This is where I stumbled upon (and quite literally judged a book by its cover) and decided to read The Nix by Nathan Hill, who just happens to be speaking at the library later this month.

To sum it up simply, The Nix follows the life of Samuel Andresen-Anderson whose mother, Faye, abandons him and his father when Samuel is 11 years old. Twenty years later, he finds her back in his life after she has assaulted a republican presidential candidate and needs his help.

Summing it up simply, however, serves as an injustice to Hill’s work. The characters are complex and complicated and written masterfully, making it easy to see why he’s being compared to the likes of John Irving (who called him “a maestro,” by the way, and then compared him to Charles Dickens), Thomas Pynchon, and Donna Tartt. The main characters are three dimensional and multi-layered, if not always particularly likeable.

In fact, I would argue that the two main characters are not the most likeable or even the most interesting of all that we meet along the way. It’s really the supporting characters that give this book so much life. Laura Pottsdam, the unabating and unapologetic plagiarizer whose shorts are “the size of a coffee filter,” for example, has a special place in my heart, as does the character “Pwnage” who spends his days playing a World of Warcraft-like video game and promising himself that his new diet and healthy lifestyle will start tomorrow.51NMvMZSH9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

But where I found myself in a room, alone, shouting, “YES!” (and I promise this really happened), was in response to Hill’s observations of our society and current political climate. Hill has such a gift for honing in on and describing ubiquitous pop-culture that I found it almost frighteningly relatable. He describes, in detail, the metamorphosis of a news cycle with such brilliance that I read it several times to let it sink in, all the while thinking, “This is exactly what I think! This is exactly how I feel!”

What about that title, though? What exactly is a nix? Well, according to Norwegian folklore, it’s a spirit whose sole purpose is to lure children away from their families. Hill’s nix, however, can be anything or anyone who steals your happiness. And there is a lot of happiness stolen in this book. I hesitate to paint too dark a picture, though. (Although, don’t be mistaken- there is a lot of darkness here.) The Nix is funny; in fact, at times, it is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

I have a personal philosophy that life is too short to read a book more than once (especially if that book is over 600 pages long). Rules, of course, are meant to be broken, and I have broken this rule a handful of times. Some books need to be read first for the story and read second for the subtle nuances that may have been missed. On my list of books that have qualified for a re-read are: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and now The Nix.

Nathan Hill will be at the Lawrence Public Library on October 24th at 7:30pm. Copies of The Nix are available for purchase at The Raven Book Store if you’d like to have one signed. You don’t have to have read the book twice to enjoy the talk- Although, I highly recommend reading it at least once.

-Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant Lawrence Public Library. 

 (Image credit Michael Lionstar)


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