“The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (The Bible)
The Nix, by Nathan Hill, is the story of a son abandoned by his mother and the impact this has on both of their lives. It explores why she left, but also why she was there in the first place. To understand this it is necessary to go back to decisions made by her parents. In each generation there is guilt that family expectations are not fulfilled. There is a longing for acceptance of who each person is and who they want to be. Everyone plays the starring role in their own life. Many struggle to comprehend that they have at most a bit part in the lives of others, even those they love.
Professor Samuel Anderson is a teacher at a small university in the Chicago area. He is supposed to be writing a book but his creativity has stalled, his raison d’être lost. He fills hours of his free time playing World of Elfscape, an on-line RPG. He feels more at home with his guild than with those he interacts with in the real world.
Samuel does not follow much news so misses an incident that happens downtown. The Governor and prospective Republican presidential candidate has been attacked with rocks thrown by a middle aged woman during a walkabout in a park. This was recorded on a mobile phone and the footage is being shown and widely discussed on TV. The woman, Faye Andreson, was a sixties student radical once arrested for prostitution. She is also Samuel’s mother. His knowledge of her background is that she married her high school sweetheart and was a conventional stay at home mom, living close to where she grew up, until the day she left without telling him why.
Samuel is contacted by Faye’s lawyer who is eager that he write a letter vouching for her good character. Samuel has other ideas. He needs to know why his mother left him, what she has been doing for the last two decades, and how his knowledge of her history is so at odds with what is being reported in the news. When he approaches her she will not talk to him – what parent willingly shares with their children difficult secrets from their past? Samuel determines to find out for himself.
The narrative is sweeping in scope, hugely perceptive and always entertaining. Each character introduced – from the self-aggrandising student through the obsessive gamer to the smug publicist – are amusingly stereotypical yet are given a depth that adds poignancy alongside the playful put downs. The author has the ability to add coherence to vague concepts and disparate opinions. He does not offer answers but makes sense of why people disagree.
The stifling, parental and societal expectations of suburban America in the sixties are a reminder of how far we have come, and perhaps explain why certain white, males would like to turn the clock back. The student protests offer the opportunity to explore politics and the myriad reasons behind misuse of law enforcement. Alongside these wider issues are the interactions between family and friends, an inability to notice what does not directly affect each individual. So much debate and consideration goes on inside heads but is ineffectually communicated whether through fear of ridicule or a mistaken belief that some understanding must already exist. Resentment simmers when needs are not met.
I devoured this book and now want to place it in the hands of every discerning reader I know. It is one of those works that offers so much more than simply a good read, although it is that in spades. There is a resonance to the prose yet it is also laugh out loud funny, poignant, clever and engaging. Go treat yourself to a copy. Recommended without hesitation.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Picador.