The Nix: A Big Book with a Lot of Stuff Inside (Except Leeroy Jenkins)
Nathan Hill's new novel The Nix is a tour-de-force decade defining portrayal that does for the post-recession twenty-tens what Tom Wolfe did for the '80's with Bonfire of the Vanites, the '90's with A Man in Full and the aughts with Charlotte Simmons, but it's more than hyper-realistic literary fiction-- the multiplicity of tone, from and structure pays homage to David Foster Wallace . . . and you also get plenty of John Irving-like anecdotal flashbacks to the 1968 Chicago demonstrations and riots, which is a hell-of-a-lot to do in one book and a hell-of-a-lot of story to tell, so the book checks in at over 600 pages and while it's often hysterically funny, especially the opening chapters, which detail a satirical World of Warcraft type game and the unlikely players, and an entitled and very persistent college student who has blatantly plagiarized a paper and is attempting to argue her way out of the punishment, and after that compelling and incredibly entertaining kick-off so much happens and there are so many plot strands, that the actual ending feels tacked on and too easy-- but the thing has to come to an end (or does it? War and Peace is over a thousand pages . . . maybe Nathan Hill just needed more pages to get the ending right) and while the actual plot sort of fizzles in its conclusion, the meta-ending is more compelling: a lesson gleaned from video game design . . . people are either "enemies or obstacles or traps or puzzles" and while the characters begin the novel as enemies and then often treat each other as obstacles to success or traps that lead to an existential abyss, by the end, the fictional author in the novel and the actual author realize that everyone is a puzzle, but that solving the puzzle of everyone takes many, many pages and you have to see things from many, many perspectives, from many times and places, and even then it's not enough to understand everyone's motivations and desires, and, as if to further develop this theme, after you finish the last page, if you turn to the Acknowledgments-- and after reading that many pages, I figured I could read two more-- then Nathan Hill does something wonderful to the puzzle of his novel: he lists all the books and articles and radio shows that helped him flesh out all these many many ideas-- Chicago '68 by David Farber and Folktales of Norway and "Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder" by Kai Yuan and lots of others-- and so he essentially lays the puzzle of the book bare, a brave thing to do . . . although he doesn't mention being inspired by this event, which he certainly was, as it's almost as infamous as the most notorious World of Warcraft moment: Leeroy Jenkins (which Hill definitely should have alluded to, because, when you have the opportunity, you should always allude to Leeroy Jenkins).