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Nathan Hill’s The Nix is a Big Book with a Big Heart

Two weeks from today, Nathan Hill will appear at the Mercantile, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to host a writer whose debut novel, The Nix, is about as timely as they come.

Not only do the novel’s 620 swiftly turning pages span American politics and protest movements from the 1968 Democratic National Convention to Occupy Wall Street–it really is a quick read–you could easily have it read well before the Modern Novel Lecture on Thursday, March 23). But Hill also encapsulates so much of what is ridiculous and frustrating about modern life: the absurdities inherent in technology, media coverage, academia, and the digital bell jar under which we are born.

While there’s a healthy dose of satire to be found on these page, à la Pynchon or Heller, Hill writes his central characters with great empathy, personalizing for his readers lives haunted by regret.

The novel takes its name from the supposed haunting of the protagonist, Sam Andreson-Anderson’s mother, Faye, by a spirit from her father’s native town in Norway. Faye disappeared when Sam when was just a kid. She reappears in the national eye when she publicly assaults an obnoxious politician. Hopelessly addicted to an immersive video-game, hopelessly past deadline on a book contract, and in trouble with the college where he teaches literature, Sam sets out to discover the truth about his mother’s disappearance.  And of course win back his childhood sweetheart. According to John Irving “The Nix is a mother-son psychodrama with ghosts and politics, but it’s also a tragicomedy about anger and sanctimony in America.”  And when he calls Hill a Maestro, it counts, because Hill makes a virtuoso storytelling performance both look easy and oh-so-easy on the eyes.

The Nix will make you laugh out loud, but also pause to mentally step outside the media onslaught that is our daily lives, and in doing so, is a perfect escape.  I’m personally looking forward to meeting Hill because his work as a novelist built on his experience as an AP journalist.  In a Slate interview, Hill talks about how acutely aware he became that the story was almost always bigger than what made it into news articles. The Nix is a bunch of big, entertaining stories, food for thought, and the sort of fiction that uses the truth as an imaginative springboard to even larger truths.  But first and foremost, it’s a whole lot of fun.

-Cedric “Scripsi” Rose