Book Club: The Nix by Nathan Hill

This book is popular! I though I put it on hold in plenty of time, but I was still on the waiting list when Connie mentioned it was a very long book. So I ordered it, last minute. This has been a reading month for me, with tons of library books suddenly available and the usual bag of books after visiting my mother.

From the author, Nathan Hill: “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.”

This is the story of a man reunited with his mother, who has committed a crime. Samuel, a college professor and stalled writer, has to explore his past, his mother’s past and his world to help her, and of course, in the end, help himself.

Hands down the whole book club liked this book. In fact that star ratings were from 4.8 to 5.0, one of the highest ever. We all were enamored with the characters, the satire, the great writing, and more.

My take:

Nathan Hill is the king of taking a million seemingly unrelated, fascinating, captivating details and tying them all together into an amazing tale. Things that seemed to be merely descriptive, a hundred pages later, resurface and I would say ‘oh!’ aloud as I was struck by the very, very, clever way he had led me to this place.
The flavor of this book brought to mind James and the Giant Peach. For me Nathan Hill has a Roald Dahl-esque way of bringing characters to life. They are funny, but it is because they make fun of our most basic fears. He slips in current ridiculous things…such as how a college student can frame a professor because she got caught cheating…with ease. There is no sense of a lecture, no pulling the reader out of the story, but he makes his point.
Hill uses changes in voice…dramatically. It is immediately apparent that we are in the point-of-view of a new character because everything changes…down to the sentence structure. A jumpy character has jumpy text. That doesn’t fully describe what I’m trying to say, you have to read it to understand.
Of course I loved the chapter that was all one sentence, a technique which I learned to use and love to use to bring the reader to the breathless state of having a stroke, or committing a murder, or telling your mother about something terrible which happened to you. Fun technique.
Hill is also an expert at using a wide variety of writing techniques within the same story. A rule breaker, going against the grain of tradition with so much skill you wonder why all writers don’t give it a try. But you know that to fail at this is disastrous, an unreadable mess, but Hill does not fail, he triumphs. Apparently it took him ten years to write this book? I’m guessing at that from a statement he makes in his acknowledgments. It is an overwhelming thought. I’m glad for him it is doing well and will be made into a movie.