As we draw a big red “X” through the first month of this new year, there is much to look forward to – more political unrest, polarizing views on social media, and thankfully, a new Under Cover Book Club read to escape into, when the former two become a little hard to handle.
While this month’s selection may not provide a total escape from political commentary, it has been hailed as one of the best books of 2016, and is definitely worth diving into. Plus, at 620 pages, “The Nix,” by Nathan Hill, will provide more than just a momentary distraction.
Following professor and wannabe writer, Samuel Andresen-Anderson, as he reconnects with his long-lost mother, the book is a satirical commentary on just about everything – our political landscape, family responsibility, activism, an insatiable news media, and even online gaming.
In an example of huge literary praise, the debut author is drawing comparisons to renowned “The World According to Garp” author, John Irving, while generally receiving glowing marks across the board.
The book takes its title from a figure in Norse folklore, the Nix. In traditional Norwegian tales, a Nix often appears as a white horse that steals children away, but Hill uses it in a more broad form – something a person loves, which one day disappears, taking a piece of their heart with it.
For Hill’s protagonist, the Nix is his mother. Abandoning the family when he was just 11, our erstwhile writer’s mother reconnects with him, only after making national headlines for having attacked a presidential nominee.
As a media circus surrounds his mother, Samuel finds that the woman they portray is not the woman he remembers at all.
The news media is painting her as an aging hippie with a political agenda and a colorful past, but the mother he recalls is a small-town girl who married her high school sweetheart and started a family, before, of course, vanishing into thin air some years later.
In order to help his mother, Samuel must first discover who she really is, which takes him and readers on a journey back to 1968, and the Vietnam War era political unrest.
As he dives into his mother’s past, in order to get to know her in the present, Samuel also has to deal with his abandonment issues –facing his Nix head on, along with the reality that it is usually the thing we want more than anything which has the power to hurt us the most.
Along the way, Hill introduces us to a colorful cast of supporting characters, each with their own tale to tell, while looking at the sanctimonious pulse that many would argue now beats in the heart of America.
From family drama, to lost loves, to politics, and idealism, the story spans generations, and, though written over the course of a decade, remains a pointedly accurate look at our current state of affairs.
In an interview with the aforementioned John Irving, Hall stated, “I guess in the novel what I wanted to do was instead of going with my first impulse, which was to try to very sanctimoniously say who’s right and who’s wrong, I realized that I wasn’t the person to be able to make that judgment. What are the odds that in my very narrow point of view that I’ve discovered the truth about American politics? It’s probably very little. It’s zero. And so instead what I tried to do in the book is to examine what it felt like to bump up against politics, to bump up against in a kind of human emotional way, to bump up against historical moments.”
And, story aside, that sounds like advice we could all benefit from right about now.