The Nix, by Nathan Hill. Knopf. 640 pages. Hardcover $27.95.
Riff is the word I’m looking for. But which definition will succeed in making the connection to Mr. Hill’s grandly ter-riff-ic first novel? Here are two from the online Oxford English Dictionary: (1) A short repeated phrase in popular music and jazz, typically used as an introduction or refrain in a song; (2) A monologue or spoken improvisation, especially a humorous one, on a particular subject. Many of the most astounding passages in this are in a kind of riff style, but the best are extended riffs that go on for many pages. They are boldly and darkly satiric.
Laura Pottsdam, wayward student of English Professor Samuel Anderson, is revealed through riffs that express the self-indulgent thoughts that run through her mind and slither out of her mouth. She is at once airhead and supreme manipulator. She defeats Samuel’s attempt to bring her plagiarism to any kind of just resolution. She exhibits a shrewd gamesmanship through which she threatens his career, a career already threatened by his inability to deliver and promised book manuscript to his publisher.
Readers first meet these two characters, and many others, in scenes set in 2011. The major piece of Chicago news that summer is that a former radical female hippy, now middle-aged, has attacked Governor Packer. That woman is Samuel’s mother Faye, from whom he has been estranged since she walked out of their suburban household when Samuel was still a boy. She had found and lost herself in the violence of the 1968 Chicago riots.
This inventive novel is mostly fashioned by filling in the blanks between occurrences that happened during and between those polar years. A large cast of characters is needed do this imaginative work, and an astounding representation of cultural and physical environments anchors and validates the characters who moved through them.
Samuel is something of an addict. He spends way too much time play computer war games, in this case “World of Elfscape,” inside of which he is Dodger the Elven Thief. Learning about the game and its allure is important to understanding Mr. Hill’s vision. For Samuel, the game keeps his mind off how far his star has fallen (and his marriage fallen apart) since being named a sure-bet young author at the age of twenty-four. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 16, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 17 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Nix