Wednesday, February 1, 2017

THE NIX by Nathan Hill

Faye abandoned her husband Henry and 11-year-old son Samuel and 20 years later is arrested for tossing a handful of gravel at a right-wing politician.  Samuel is now a disenchanted college professor who spends all of his free time playing video games.  Having squandered his advance for a book deal, he now needs to start writing in earnest or earn megabucks in Jakarta as a teacher, as advised by his publisher.  His mother’s attorney wants him to write a letter attesting to Faye’s good character, but his publisher wants him to write a scathing tell-all about Faye’s radical past, of which Samuel has no knowledge whatsoever.  The novel tells the story of both mother and son with extensive flashbacks to Faye’s brief stint in college in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention and associated protests.  The 1968 passages are action-packed, but the 21st century stuff not so much.  In fact, an entire rambling one-sentence chapter is devoted to the musings of another video game addict, and I did not get the purpose of including him in the book at all, which is way too long anyway.  On the plus side, the writing is wonderful but a little pretentious, especially in the aforementioned chapter.  The most entertaining character in the book is Laura Pottsdam, a student who Samuel loves to hate, because she cuts class and plagiarizes a writing assignment.  Her rationalization of how she has cheated her way through her entire education and then her doubt about her ability to succeed in a glamorous marketing job after college are priceless.  Then when a character from Faye’s wild and crazy past is identified in Samuel’s present, I had to applaud the beauty of the irony.

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