Author: Nathan Hill
Publisher: Audible Studios
Genre: MM Contemporary
Narrator: Ari Fliakos
In Norwegian folklore, a nix 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 reappeared, 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.
The blurb describes Nathan Hill’s first novel, The Nix, as “remarkable.” That adjective is grossly lacking in my opinion. I could sound like “The Donald” in listing the superlatives of this unique, well-written, compelling tale. Main character Samuel Andresen-Anderson has privately struggled with his panic, incomprehension, fear, anger, and feelings of loss, following Faye’s, Samuel’s mother, abandonment of him and his father. The Nix will land in my list of favorite novels for 2016.
The author’s writing is what I’ll call “downplayed literary.” I say downplayed only because labelling a novel “literature” is too often the kiss of death. But fear not: Nathan Hill’s writing style is so smooth it will take you a few chapters to realize you’re reading a work of literary genius. I was hooked by the first line, and would’ve listened to this one nonstop, but for the fact that the audiobook is nearly twenty-two hours long; mind you, I’m not kvetching about the length, for I enjoyed every moment.
The characters are brilliantly developed as the story whisks readers back and forth from 2011, to the Reagan eighties, to the social upheaval of the sixties, to post WWII and 2011 Norway. Throughout, the pitch-perfect dialogues seize your imagination and run wild into the night with it.
Another strength of The Nix is Hill’s sprinklings of humor. I laughed out loud at: the conversations of two Secret Service Agents seated in the Hilton’s bar during the riots at Chicago’s 1968 Democratic National Convention; the megalomania of a famous poet from the sixties; the scenes involving a geeky gamer; a freeway tirade when the MC taps a Chicago cab driver’s bumper in slow-moving traffic; the burlesque of a 51-50 university student whom Professor Andresen-Anderson accuses of plagiarism; the conversations between the MC and his devilishly urbane, narcissistic Manhattan publisher.
But don’t think for a moment The Nix is all humor. Nathan Hill will play all of your emotions like a Stradivarius. The pace is perfect throughout, and the plot will keep you listening/turning the pages. And yes, there’s a surprise ending.
Narrator Ari Fliakos’ wide range of voices captivated me. His skills in oral interpretation were nothing short of brilliant. This is the first audiobook Mr. Fliakos narrated that I’ve heard. I’ll be watching for other novels he’s narrated.
If you’re looking for a novel that’s nothing like you’ve read or listened to before, don’t miss The Nix. It’s an original masterpiece by a new author. Bravo, Nathan Hill!