Review by Adrina Palmer
Samuel Andresen-Anderson seeks to discover the secrets behind his mother’s abandonment when he was a child and the reason for her public return.
All of the necessary elements for a fantastic read are wrapped up in a neat package. This multi-layered book brings several characters to life spanning several decades of heartache and emotional trauma. Nathan Hill clearly shows the many vulnerable layers of love and truth. The protagonist, Samuel Andresen-Anderson, much like the other characters in this story, are fully dimensional with no quirk or thought unaddressed. While most of the characters are not necessarily people I would choose to associate with in real life, they do read like someone you could encounter at the bank or grocery store. The story itself is mundane on the first level, but like an onion, Hill peels layers off to create an engrossingly thorough world of faulty characters searching for the meaning of life. Each character is undeveloped in personality, like a coming of age story set closer to the time of a mid-life crisis.
Samuel Andresen-Anderson prefers not to think about his mother’s abandonment when he was just twelve years old. He chooses instead to escape into a digital fantasy game instead of teaching his college students to avoid human interaction which has mostly left him traumatized throughout his life. Years ago, fame found him for a short while with his brief-lived passion for writing and a small sum of money, despite never writing a great American novel. When he finds out, he is going to be sued for his inability to move past writer’s block, he devises a plan to write a novel about his newly returned mother. Her return only becomes apparent after she publicly attacked a presidential candidate.
Weaving through time, Samuel attempts to understand not just his mother’s attack on the politician but also why she left him in his youth. Now back in the 1980s, we are able to witness his childhood and first love. As his mother, Faye prepares to leave her lackluster marriage and her needy, whiny son behind, Samuel befriends a local bully. The telltale signs of abuse are obvious for Bishop Fall who copes by acting out in cruel pranks to ease his pain. His twin sister, Bethany, becomes the girl on the pedestal all girls must measure up to for Samuel. Before their abrupt few months together are over and the Falls family moves away, Samuel finds solace in the meaningful friendships. Bethany manages to keep Samuel in her life in the form of a pen-pal. In the present time of 2011, the couple that never happened find themselves reconnected over shared grief before entangling themselves in romance again.
Samuel digs deeper into his mother’s past to discover her brief stint in college and the protests of 1968 in Chicago. The one month spent in the city rocked Faye to the core as she learned to see past her innocent small town roots. Accidentally thrown into the midst of the protests, Faye meets several people who help to shape her life and give her a hunger for more than middle-class living. She had always been a panicky sort, the same reason she found her child to be more than she could handle, and hoped this short break from reality would be enough to get her through suburban domesticity long enough to find happiness in her marriage and with her only child. When the monotony of daily life proved too little to hold her wayward heart, she casts her husband and son aside.
Further back we find the generational curse preceded Faye with her haunted father. An immigrant from Norway, Frank Andresen connects to his daughter only through mythical ghost stories. His past and antisocial ways culminated in a harsh parenting style too much for Faye to cope with in her mentally unstable mind. As all the pieces unite, Samuel is able to understand the decisions and ghosts that haunt his mother and grandfather, leading to his own curse of drifting through life. With the help of a friend, he is able to put the puzzle together and move forward in new directions in an attempt to finally put the problems of his family to rest and find a life worth living.
The mythical element of this book is what drew me in. The sordid past of Faye and Frank are simple stories told time and again but the destruction left for Samuel to bear is poignant and almost more human than I can handle. The raw exposure of each character is fully absorbing along with talented writing. Each new story compounded the need for more information, which never left me wanting for answers. To see how many generations it takes to shape one life into such a disarray of emotional issues, is profound. This book forces me to reflect on the previous generations in my family, to find if the fluidity of their mistakes have repercussions in my life. ‘The Nix’ is a haunting tale told in palatable detail and well worth your time and energy.
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