Top Shelf in September – THE NIX

Not only is Nathan Hill’s debut novel The Nix our Top Shelf pick for the month, it’s also our new Trust Fall selection — that’s how much we loved it. Check out Claire’s review below and add this to your to-be-read pile. Trust Fall boxes are now available online, and will begin shipping in the next few weeks.

nathan hill

If you want to impress your friends and family by carrying around a 600+ page book, I recommend The Nix. Nathan Hill’s debut novel chronicles the mostly-unhappy life of Samuel Andresen-Anderson, an adjunct professor and failing/flailing writer who would much rather immerse himself in an online role-playing game where elves battle orcs than deal with his apathetic students’ obvious plagiarism. Samuel was once a talented young writer with a book deal and a hefty advance, but years have past and he has yet to write anything. Samuel’s publisher has given up waiting and is suing him for the advance. Samuel scrambles, he realizes the woman he’s seen on the news throwing rocks at a notorious right-wing politician is none other than his estranged mother, and makes a deal–he will pony up a scathing tell-all on his mother, whatever he remembers, in exchange for that lawsuit. Obviously it gets complicated, as all good books do.

There are a lot of aspects of this book that could feel like cliche  — the main character is a writer, yes, as well as a struggling teacher; there are tense family relationships around every corner, and childhood traumas to navigate. Lots of opportunity for been-there-read-that, but The Nix overcomes — there is real surprise and humor and wit in these pages. The characters are varied and strange but still I found myself relating to the online gamer’s internal dialogue of daily procrastination, the impossibility of what should be a simple task elegantly explained, and the desire of another character to live both an exciting life and an easy one. These people feel real, tangled and weird.

Throughout the novel Hill shifts perspectives, moving from Samuel’s point of view to his mother’s to the press’s — and their permutations of speculation — to that of the friend he knows only through the online Elfquest world, and others, in a move that reminds me of Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad. Hill takes us to Samuel’s childhood in suburbia and the adolescence of his mother, to the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and their origins in Norway, and somehow it makes sense. It looks too long to be as funny and weird as it is — why is it that giant bricks of books somehow connote uber-intellectualism? — but it works (speaking of books that seemed intimidating but then blew my mind, you should read A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava). There are deeply buried family secrets! There is a political riot! There are mythical Nordic symbols! There is a single sentence that lasts for pages!

A Nix, in Norwegian folklore, is a spirit who takes many forms, sometimes appearing as a white horse to steal children away. In Hill’s debut novel, it is anything you love that will one day leave. This book is smart and funny and strangely perfect for right now in its timeliness. It’s one of those rare 600-ish page books that I read in two days, even though I had a lot of work to do.
Reviewed by Claire Anderson-Ramos, Associate Buyer

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