Thursday, December 29, 2016

Nathan Hill's "The Nix," Part 2

Author Nathan Hill
Nathan Hill's "The Nix" is a book that stays with you long after you finish reading it. It's culturally relevant and funny and filled with memorable characters and situations. And having had the opportunity to hear Hill talk about the book has  made me even more enthusiastic about it (if that's even possible). 

The book begins with an incident involving Governor Sheldon Packer, a right-wing Presidential candidate. It's a slow news day, and the media grabs onto the event with the force of a hurricane. It doesn't take long for someone to come up with the catchphrase "Packer Attacker" to describe the woman who threw a rock at the candidate (who seemed a lot funnier before November 8th).

"While [the media] waits for new information to surface, they debate whether this incident will help or hurt the governor's presidential chances. Help, they decide, as his name recognition is pretty low outside of a rabid conservative evangelical following who just loves what he did during his tenure as governor of Wyoming, where he banned abortion outright and required the Ten Commandments to be publicly spoken by children and teachers every morning before the Pledge of Allegiance and made English the official and only legal language of Wyoming and banned anyone not fluent in English from owning property. Also he permitted firearms in every state wildlife refuge. And he issued an executive order requiring state law to supersede federal law in all matters, a move that amounted to, according to constitutional scholars, a fiat secession of Wyoming from the United States. He wore cowboy boots. He held press conferences at this cattle ranch. He carried an actual live real gun, a revolver that dangled in a leather hostler at his hip."

It turns out that Samuel's mother Faye is the Packer Attacker. He hasn't seen her since she abruptly left Samuel and his father when Samuel was a kid. This sets up an opportunity for Samuel to explore his mother's past in search of an explanation. It's an exploration that leads Samuel--and the readers--back to the time of the Viet Nam War and the 1968 protests outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

During Hill's talk, I commented that the book seemed to have its pulse on our current political state. Take, for instance, Sebastian's comments about the protest.

Picture from the 1968 protest in Chicago
"The more the cops beat us up, the more our argument seems correct....It's actually pretty brilliant. The protestors and the police, the progressives and the authoritarians--they require each other, they create each other, because they need an opponent to demonize. The best way to feel like you really belong to a group is to invent another group to hate."

But to Hill, the real themes of the book are polarization and the inability of people to communicate. The protestors versus the police/politicians. Faye versus Samuel. Bethany versus Bishop (twins who play significant roles in Samuel's youth). And then there's Pwnage, a 30-something whose only affirmation in life comes from his status as a master player in a video game called Elfscape. His worldview of seeing people only as enemies, obstacles, puzzles and traps puts him in a class by himself.

Hill noted that the Oxford Dictionaries named "post-truth" as the word of the year. The dictionary defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” (For a great article about this, click here.) 

Hill commented that the concept of "post-truth" also captures our tendency to ignore data that doesn't agree with our own views. It's an idea that's relevant both to the story of "The Nix" and to today's political scene.

I could go on and on about "The Nix." It is, after all, 600 pages (or 22 audio hours) of wonderfulness. But you should discover "The Nix" yourself. I can't think of a better way to start off the new year. 

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