The Nix, Nathan Hill, author, Ari Fliakos, narrator
“The Nix” begins in 1988, as the author describes an event taking place in the small Chicago suburb of Streamwood. Eleven-year-old Samuel Andresen-Anderson’s life is about to unalterably change forever. His mother, Faye, has been slowly and carefully preparing her escape from her family by patiently and painstakingly, over a lengthy period of time, removing the “bits and pieces” of her life from their home, until one day she finally simply disappears. Neither Samuel nor his father, Henry, were aware of what she was doing and had no reason to believe she would abandon them. That, however, is exactly what she did.
Fast forward in the book to 2011 and watch Wyoming Governor Sheldon Packer, a right wing extremist at a campaign stop in Chicago. Suddenly, an older woman throws pebbles at him, and he is struck in the eye and injured. The event inspires a sympathy vote which propels him forward with the electorate. The attacker quickly becomes a household name as the Packer Attacker.
The infamous Packer Attacker turns out to be Faye Andresen-Anderson, Samuel’s mother. Turn the clock back now to1968. Obedient and mild-mannered, very well-behaved young Faye has become friends with participants in an activist group and because of this she has appeared on the radar of a corrupt cop who ruins her future, simply because he can. He makes false accusations against her because he insanely blames her for his failed romantic relationship and she decides to run. Now this same cop, in 2011, is an insane and corrupt judge.Judge Charles Brown, still harboring anger towards Faye, decides to pursue the investigation of the Packer Attacker to the fullest extent of the law, hoping to exploit it as a terrorist attack, asking for extreme punishment.
Now enter, Samuel. After decades of not seeing his mom or knowing of her whereabouts, he is suddenly called upon by a lawyer to be her character witness. Samuel is now an educator at a university and a budding author, although he has not produced his next promised book to his publisher. He has a couple of his own crises to deal with at school and his own character comes under a cloud. There are forces gathering that are intent on destroying him. An unscrupulous student, Laura Pottsdam, has been accused by him of plagiarism. When threatened with failure, Laura uses every tool of her sexuality and political correctness to destroy him and his future by manipulating the administrators with her lies; the bleeding hearts chose to believe her without even questioning him, her motives or behavior. His actual questionable and compulsive video gaming behavior has brought about a financial crisis in his life, so he is being hit on several fronts at the same time. Suddenly, he finds himself in a position that forces him to betray his mother to save himself from financial ruin. He agrees to write a tell-all book about her to shame her, fulfill his languishing publishing contract and exact revenge against her for leaving him; as he learns the secrets of her life, will he still be able to condemn her?
This novel is really well written as it exposes the hypocrisy in our world, in business, politics and academia, with subtle humor and a depth of insight, understanding and honesty that will tease and taunt today’s accepted ideals and practices, those very same lifestyles that coddle rather than strengthen the character of those it is expected to inspire to greatness. As the story advances, it follows Faye’s tumultuous life as a college student in the sixties, into the present and juxtaposes it with Samuel’s life as it relates to his relationship with his mother and the ultimate impact of her abandonment upon him. Her leaving is exposed as a catalyst that has always challenged his healthy development. He forever lacked the courage to defend himself, and he often believed he must be doing something wrong.
As the story travels back and forth in time, with many stops in between that highlight historic protests and marches, assassinations and shattered dreams, it can get a bit confusing and may even seem to ramble, but only briefly, because as Faye’s background is revealed, and her reasons for abandoning Samuel are discovered, the reader will be enlightened. The reader will learn of Faye’s panic attack plagued childhood, attacks which continued into her adult life often making her unable to function properly, of her father’s tales of ghost stories and myths from his past in Norway, his native land, which instilled awe in her and which taught her about “the nix”, which according to the book… ”can take many forms. In Norwegian folklore it is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse that steals children away”. She passed many of these stories on to Samuel in his youth
In truth, the manipulators who bring charges against the two of them should be facing judgment for their own heinous behavior. The trials and travails of both Samuel and Faye seem to force them to finally mature, to come of age and more fully understand who they are as human beings and to understand that it was often their own foolish conduct that had brought down the wrath of the powers that be upon them. Those same powers that be may actually have been engaged in even more wrongdoing, behavior for which they might remain unscathed. Samuel and Faye had been weak; they had been naïve and idealistic when the cruel and unjust world around them required them to be strong and purposeful, but that same world was set up to defeat them.
Nathan Hill mocks the current state of affairs in almost every area of our lives: business, sex, plagiarism, academia, ethics, student life, idealism, addiction to drugs, to video games and social media, costly elections, sloppy attire, dishonesty, disrespect, corruption, women’s rights, civil rights, police brutality, the court system, the biased publishing industry, greed, weak administrators at work, play and school, who are nothing more than bleeding hearts, and he aptly describes America today with all of its warts with brutal honesty and sharp wit. Within the system, protests were mocked, honor was turned upside down and innocence was corrupted. The underdog was favored at all costs, regardless of right or wrong; supporting the cause, whatever it might be, valued or valueless, was the objective. And that is why I found it sad rather than funny, because this seems to be where we are today. Issues are not important; rather there is a need to have a cause to protest. Because the book referred back to historic events and wove them into the novel, it seemed even more authentic as a critique of our way of life.
The one negative I found was that the book sometimes went on a little too long and contained so many tangents it was difficult to keep track of all of them until the end, when all of the loose threads were sewn together and society’s hypocrisy was highlighted with good humor and an open, honest dialogue that allowed the readers to recognize their own shortcomings and the shortcomings of the very real world the characters faced.
On the positive side, Samuel does awaken from his slumber and attempt to disown the herds he followed and leave the bubble of fantasy he had lived within. Would Samuel decide to give up on the shape-shifting Nix who wanted to bring him down, and devote himself, instead, to what was right. This book is a cynical and, at the same time, a critical analysis of life today; society’s hypocrisy is exposed. The narrator was wonderful, perfectly donning the mantle of each character.
The system seemed rigged against Samuel and Faye, who often possibly followed the rules too stringently. Kafaesque, with doors that led nowhere, and solutions that were not to be found, the book will make every reader think about life today, the election today, the protests of today, the women’s movement, the scholastic environment and family and world relations.
Encyclopædia Britannica-Nix, also called nixie, or nixy, in Germanic mythology, a water being, half human, half fish, that lives in a beautiful underwater palace and mingles with humans by assuming a variety of physical forms (e.g., that of a fair maiden or an old woman) or by making itself invisible.
The Nix (Nixie plural) is the most popular term for the shapeshifting water spirits of Germanic and Nordic folklore.