In 2004 Nathan Hill’s car was broken into and his valuables stolen, including a hard drive containing all of the short stories he hoped to some day land with a publisher. More than a decade later, Hill’s award-worthy debut novel The Nix feels like recompense for that loss.
The Nix centers around a washed-up English professor, Samuel Andresen-Anderson, who opts for immersing himself in a virtual gaming world of elves and dragons over attempting to write his commissioned novel. Samuel’s jaded existence is interrupted when he identifies a woman charged with assault for throwing rocks at a politician as his estranged mother Faye, who abandoned him when he was 11 with no explanation. With the aid of his gaming buddy Pwnage, Samuel excavates Faye’s troubled past and untangles his own early trauma in the process. Samuel’s coming of age in the 1980s Midwest is deftly interwoven with Faye’s own formative years as a 1960s radical in Chicago (Allan Ginsberg and Walter Cronkite make appearances) as we learn that the story of a neglectful mother is more nuanced than it first appears to be. The book begs the question: what do we do with inherited trauma if not pass it on to the next generation? Fans of Donna Tartt, John Irving, and Jonathan Franzen should take note.
Rating: * * * * * One of the best
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Reviewed by: Susannah B.