An overblown act of minor violence against the fictional GOP candidate sets the stage for the sprawling, 620-page novel, which wanders from today's economic pessimism and political hyperbole to the violence surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
No, "The Nix" is not a reference to Richard Nixon, that year's GOP candidate. It refers to a creature from Norwegian mythology, one of myriad themes that test the reader's endurance and Hill's language.
Often ignoring the writer's workshop nostrum to "show, not tell," the novel ranges from present day academic chicanery and online video game addiction to the Iraq war, child abuse, sexual relationships and family dynamics. The panoramic novel shows American culture declining from the economic and social cohesiveness of the 1950s and early '60s to today's loss of optimism.
Hill's satire is heavy handed and predictable. The novel gains narrative force from its vivid characters and their engrossing stories. The book's central character, Faye Anderson, is particularly memorable.
The depiction of the young Faye's loss of innocence at the 1968 Democratic Convention shows DeLillo-like skill in depicting dramatic historic events. Pynchon and Vonnegut are other influences; even the best American novels of today echo voices from the '60s and '70s.
While the contemporary political candidate is imagined, Hill portrays historical figures when he looks back on the '60s. His portrait of Allen Ginsburg seeking to bring peace to the political violence is heart-rending.
"The Nix" displays heights of masterful writing that make its flat patches all the more disappointing. The book encompasses several novels in one, some remarkable, others off-kilter. Some of Hill's best chapters are marred by narrative gimmicks he could have avoided. The book loses momentum at its end; today's novelists seem to have problems finishing books.
Faye's personality will continue to haunt me with its complex mix of fear and bravery, idealism and moral failings. The story of her son, Samuel, and his troubled relationship with a childhood friend and his twin sister will also remain with me.
Those stories are the dynamic core of the book. Hill's ambitious reach should be applauded, but it's disappointing when he falls short.