Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nathan Hill's The Nix

I read Nathan Hill's The Nix (2016) after reading good reviews and seeing it had an angle of academic satire. As it turned out, I loved the book even though the academic part was pretty minimal and mostly at the beginning. Samuel is an unhappy English professor at a small Chicago college and was dealing with a plagiarizing student, which had the ring of truth but the over-the-top flavor of satire.

The book skewers everything as it tells Samuel's story, his mother's story, and others', moving back and forth between 2011 and 1968, focusing on the DNC in Chicago. The core themes are how deeply the past informs the present (he keeps referring to children's "choose your own adventure" books and even structures a bit of the book that way) but also how we can make our own reality. The latter point is driven home in a sad way by an addictive gamer.

It's a funny and incisive book, with all kinds of twisting and turning (and a big plot revelation toward the end). Even with all the jumping around in time, I found myself glued to it. My only quibble is that in the last pages, all the satire suddenly evaporates and it gets sentimental as Hill ties up loose ends. I kept wondering why he got so nice. I'm very glad the rest of the book wasn't that way.


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