Posted by: Jeanie F | June 28, 2017

The Nix by Nathan Hill

One of the greatest joys of being a reader is finding a BIG book and knowing, by the time you’ve finished the first chapter, that you’re going to love this book. That is exactly what The Nix, Nathan Hill’s first novel, was for me and, honestly, 620 pages flew by. This was one of those books that I couldn’t wait to return to every time I was forced, by life’s circumstances, to put it down.

The Nix is the story of Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a English professor and would-be author, who we follow from his early, unhappy childhood to his later, unhappy adulthood. His mother left Samuel and his father when Samuel was six years old. And this wasn’t the “I’ll see you every other weekend” kind of desertion. She told him goodbye and vanished, leaving no forwarding address. Samuel gets on with his life as best he can, but the specter of her abandonment never leaves him. This event is “The Nix” – a Norwegian house spirit who finds a person and inhabits them for life – the instant when life slips out of your control and never recovers.

We follow Samuel through his childhood, through important friendships he makes with a pair of siblings, his coming of age, and up to his eventual opportunity to find some kind of reconciliation with his mother. But there is so much encompassed in this seemingly simple story, that these bare bones are no more than the scaffolding of events that encompasse decades of not only Samuel’s life but our national history. In his review of The Nix, Jason Sheehan, writing for NPR Books, says this:

… The Nix is about a lot of things – about politics and online gaming, about the tenuous friendships of adult men and the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It is a vicious, black-hearted and beautiful satire of youth and middle-age, feminine hygiene products, frozen foods and social media. But more than anything, it is a treatise on the ways that the past molds us and breaks us and never lets us go. How it haunts us all.

For me, one of this most striking aspects of this book was how real everything feels – as if it was possible for Nathan Hill to personally experience the events, the emotions, the essence of everything he wrote.  One example is a section in which Bishop, Samuel’s childhood friend, has grown up and joined the army. He is in Iraq, in an armored tank with the other men in his unit, including one named “Chucky”. Chucky is a bit of a nerd, but he becomes a favorite among the men when he tells the story of getting up the nerve, on his first leave home, to ask the most beautiful girl in his school for a date. He tells them she said yes, and now they’re in love. And then, here’s how Nathan Hill follows up:

What everyone likes about the story is the part where he finally asks out the girl. Because the way Chucky tells it, it’s not like he had to work up the courage to do it. It’s more like it no longer required courage to do. Or maybe he discovered that he had plenty of courage all along, inside him, ready to be used, and everyone likes imagining that. They hope the same thing has happened to them, too, because they are occasionally terrified out of their minds over here, and they hope when the time comes for them to be brave, they will be brave . . . If a kid like Chucky could land a girl like Julie Winterberry, surely they can make it through one lousy war.

And this is the strength and the beauty of this book. We don’t just get the action, we don’t just get the emotion, but we crawl inside the skin, the hearts, the minds of the characters in ways you rarely encounter in a novel. I’ve never been in the military (thank God), or ridden in a tank down a road that could be littered with IEDs, but reading Hill’s description of it, seen through the eyes of a few men in a tank, made it as real as only the best literature can do.

I could give you many, many more examples of the ways that this book knocked me out, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me really sorry that Nathan Hill limited himself to 620 pages. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Grade: A+




  1. Wow. High praise! I’ll give it a read. Ps, no links.

    • DOUG, I think you will love it. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it!

  2. I’ve thought about reading this one but haven’t gotten around to it.

    • What can I do to ensure that you don’t miss it? I really believe you’ll love it, Rosemary!

  3. ok – ordered from library

  4. I would have read this one except it was too long.

    • As far as I was concerned, it could have been longer! But you review a lot more books than I do, so I could spare the time. I’m in awe of your reviews!

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