Review: 'The Nix'

Iowa City native's debut novel deserves its praise

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By Rob Cline, correspondent

Nathan Hill has been garnering plenty of praise for his debut novel, “The Nix.” Some are comparing him to famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum John Irving. Irving himself provided a rare blurb for the book; borrowing and modifying a line from the novel, Irving says, “Nathan Hill is a maestro of being terrific.”

Does “The Nix” live up to these accolades? It does, indeed.

Hill, a native Iowan who worked for The Gazette for a time and now resides in Florida, has written a fast-paced, satirical novel. The story is centered on a mother and son whose long estrangement comes to an end when she is suddenly in the national news for attacking a conservative politician. The “attack” involves the throwing of some gravel, and it serves as an example of how small actions can have big and unforeseeable consequences, an idea that recurs throughout the novel.

See also: Cedar Rapids native gaining critical acclaim for debut novel

The author isn’t afraid to call attention to his own writing. Early on, a list of logical fallacies is interspersed among examples of those fallacies. Later, a sizeable chunk of the novel is structured as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel while almost completely lacking the signature “choices” readers are usually able to make. Still later, a character’s downfall is rendered as a single pages-long paragraph, highlighting the inevitability of the collapse.

Meanwhile, the narrative alternates between 1968 and 2011 as we learn the details that threaten to finally unravel the lives of the primary characters. The book is funny and dark, filled with memorable — and often memorably named — characters. No one is quite who they want to be, and nothing unfolds in quite the ways they hope.

The book’s title refers to a ghost who tricks you by offering something irresistible that will eventually be your doom. “The Nix” is, itself, irresistible, and offers readers only rewards.

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