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The Nix
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2018 Book Discussions > The Nix - Whole Book - spoilers allowed! (Sep 2018)

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Doug Thank you for joining us for the Sept. book pick, The Nix! In this folder you can discuss your thoughts and impressions on the book as a whole, and include spoilers, if necessary.


Bretnie | 702 comments I'm diving into some real discussion!

One bit that could easily annoy people but that I loved - all the "choose your own adventure" themes. I loved that he introduced it with him creating his own story and everyone loving it in his class. I love that he totally stole the concept (what would Laura Potsdam think!).

I love that the story comes back to things like this a lot. And how the lives of all the characters are filled with all of these impossible choices.


Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
I wonder if the choose-your-own adventure portions appeal more to those who actually grew up reading such fare (such as myself). There's a nice connection between that type of story and video games in terms of having a somewhat limited set of options and getting immediate effects. It's tempting to break life down to these decision points... What if I had chose X instead of Y? What if I had turned left instead of right? Etc. Does the video game world provide an escape where cause and effect are more clearly linked? Where participants have some semblance of control they no longer feel in real life?

These "impossible choices" have such long-lasting repercussions in the characters' lives. Unlike in real life, in a choose-your-own-adventure story you can go back and take the choice not originally chosen to see what happens.


Doug Marc wrote: "I wonder if the choose-your-own adventure portions appeal more to those who actually grew up reading such fare (such as myself). There's a nice connection between that type of story and video games..."

Very perceptive, Marc! I was never a gamer, but must admit to a fondness for the choose-you-own-adventure stories as a youth, so those did resonate with me also...


Bretnie | 702 comments Excellent connection Marc! Yep, I grew up on choose-your-own-adventure books and Tetris :)


Linda | 71 comments I loved the choose your own adventure bits too! I liked how Samuel wrote about his path taken with Bethany as not really choosing any sort of path, but just following decisions which were made for him... until he got to the scene where it was actually a decision he had to make, (and he could bookmark that fork in the path and look back at that point in his life).

I also grew up with these books and now that I have kids I actively seek them out and try to get them interested in reading them. Of course I’ve had to revisit a few myself for the nostalgia. :). Anyway, I was delighted by the references to this type of book in The Nix.


Kristina | 66 comments I loved the book, but the choose-your-own-adventure part was a bit too long for me.

Towards the end, I had the feeling, that it might have been better for the story to be a bit more on point and shorter, but nevertheless I loved the story (or rather stories) and the characters.

When Faye told Samuel to talk to Guy Periwinkle, the thought 'oh, maybe he is his father?!' crossed my mind.

What are the characters you enjoyed reading the most. I loved the parts on Laura, Pwnage and also the background story form Alice.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments Kristina wrote: "When Faye told Samuel to talk to Guy Periwinkle, the thought 'oh, maybe he is his father?!' crossed my mind..."

I thought the same thing. I wonder if Hill danced around with that idea as well--it certainly seems latent in the story, even if Samuel's age and Faye's encounter with Periwinkle don't match up.

I finished the book the other night, and spent this morning reading through all the reviews here on Goodreads--the book gets overwhelming positive ratings; the critical reviews overwhelmingly concentrate on the book's length and lack of editing.

For my part, I enjoyed reading the book--even the sections that were tangential to the main story (Laura, Pwnage)--but in the end I'm left feeling a little ambivalent about it.

I'm not sure I can put into words why I felt that way--here's me just thinking out loud: it seems as though there's a subtext to the book that supports the idea that you shouldn't have to face unpleasant circumstances of your own devising if you don't want to. Laura finds a way to avoid the consequences of her actions and get what she wants, and I feel like she got a way with something. Pwnage on the other hand, avoids the consequences of his behavior and gets the things he wants and I'm rooting for him. Faye avoids the consequences of her attack on Packer (or Periwinkle, either or), and is rewarded with insight into her life and a new relationship with son and father. Samuel never faces the (admittedly unfair) trial at his college, and is rewarded with Bethany. Given the outcomes for these characters, it's almost as if Hill is saying, "a person shouldn't have to face unpleasant consequences for their choices (and each of these characters made choices that put them in the situation they were in)--they should be able to go back to the point in the choose-your-own-adventure and pick a different path."

Really, it seems to me, that if you boil all these characters down, they're all just nicer facets of Laura--and because I'm favorable to them, Hill almost convinces me that the rules shouldn't really apply to them. I'm all for hitting a reset button and trying to move your life in a different direction if it's been a failure up to this point, but the reset button doesn't erase the past. First step in starting over seems to me to be cleaning up your messes.


Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Bryan, I shared your ambivalence in the final say for this book. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, but it's almost like Hill shies away from the emotional weight of what he's set up, opting instead to try and keep things a little more light-hearted or feel-good.

Narratively, it seemed like Hill would lead us up to an interesting part and then leave us hanging as he veered sharply into a tangent or a jump to the past. I started calling this narratus interruptus in my head. My favorite parts were the past where we saw what happened to Faye. I found Pwnage oddly touching, especially his points about how much easier relationships/marriage would be if they were more like video games where you got direct, clear feedback.

My biggest issue was that it felt like Hill too neatly tied everything up. It felt like I was being "told" an awful lot instead of "shown" and didn't leave me with much to think about on my own. There were a lots of twists and turns I was not expecting, which kept the story engaging.


Linda | 71 comments Bryan wrote: "it seems as though there's a subtext to the book that supports the idea that you shouldn't have to face unpleasant circumstances of your own devising if you don't want to."

Interesting perspective, Bryan. I had not thought of the ending of each thread in these terms so now you have me rethinking it all. When I finished the book, I was left with a overwhelming feeling of sadness, that everyone actually didn't get what they want. Or perhaps more specifically, what the characters wanted, they obtained so late in their lives because of making poor choices or no choices at all, so I felt there was a theme of "lost time" playing out here.

Laura - yes, in the short term she got what she wanted. But ultimately I'm not so sure her methods are going to serve her well. She even voiced her concern with this to herself when she wondered what a Director of Marketing (or whatever position she was aiming to have) even did, and how would she know how to do her job if all this time she has been cheating her way through school? I would like to think that in the end she doesn't get that marketing job and fails, but perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part and there are probably many people who cheat their way to the top.

Pwnage - I don't think he got what he wanted. He wanted to live a healthy life and quit video games and he kept failing at it. Yes, his end in the book left him with having quit the game and being admitted to the hospital so presumably he will get help with his undiagnosed diabetes and other health issues, but we've seen no evidence that he will actually change his behavior when he is released from the hospital. And as for writing his crime thriller, he might end up like another Samuel, letting 10 years pass with no progress on writing.

Faye - I do think she got what she wanted in the end. Like you said, renewed relationships and insight into her past. But it felt bittersweet because it all happened so late in her life. She had a lot of lost time that she could have filled with these relationships if she had made different choices. This seems also the case with Faye's father. He was so unhappy with his life and kept looking back to "what could have been".

Samuel - again, I felt like he lost a lot of time with making no choices or poor choices and so most of his life was filled with unhappiness.

Bethany - she lost her brother because she didn't make the choice to confront what had happened to him growing up, even though she knew about it. Yes, she finally has Samuel in her life again, but she went through a good portion of her life avoiding her initial choice of partners.


it's almost as if Hill is saying, "a person shouldn't have to face unpleasant consequences for their choices (and each of these characters made choices that put them in the situation they were in)--they should be able to go back to the point in the choose-your-own-adventure and pick a different path."

I don't know, perhaps? But didn't all these people pay the price in living lives that were unhappy and not what they wanted? So maybe they are not actually going back and picking different paths, but continuing forward and making different choices now. The consequence is lost time.


Bretnie | 702 comments Bryan, great observations about how people not having to face consequences. I did feel weird about Faye being let off the hook for abandoning Samuel, and even more weird about her change in perspective towards her own father. These parents made some serious impacts in their child's life and the message seemed to be, well, we all have hard things happen in our lives, we should be easier on each other. Like Marc said, a bit too tidy of an ending.

But strangely that didn't bother me enough to like the book less. I still loved it despite being able to find faults in it.

And man I feel like a dummy because I did not see the Periwinkle twist at all!


message 12: by Bretnie (last edited Sep 08, 2018 12:38PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bretnie | 702 comments A few lines that I jotted down/paraphrased that I really liked:

-The best way to feel like you really belong to a group is to create a group that you really hate.

-We don't have one true self, we have many hidden selves. (this really resonated with me)

-If you make the easy choice every day then it becomes a pattern and the pattern becomes your life.

-If you're not really afraid of it, it isn't really change. (Good timing personally with some big life changes of my own right now)

-And loved the last line of the big Pwnage chapter, "Today was the day he would quit playing video games."


message 13: by Linda (last edited Sep 08, 2018 01:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Linda | 71 comments Bretnie wrote: "And man I feel like a dummy because I did not see the Periwinkle twist at all!"

I did not see this coming at all and was, excuse the overused phrase here, blown away! I think my mouth slowly dropped open as it dawned on me that Periwinkle was Sebastian, and that he could be Samuel's father. ha ha. Was it definitive that Periwinkle was Samuel's father, or was that left open-ended? I was unsure of that.

Also, those are some great quotes you pulled, Bretnie.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments Linda wrote: "But didn't all these people pay the price in living lives that were unhappy and not what they wanted? So maybe they are not actually going back and picking different paths, but continuing forward and making different choices now. The consequence is lost time..."

I've tried to respond to your points several times, but I keep erasing what I've written. It isn't that I disagree with you--I think what you say above is exactly what happens.

For me, it comes down to what I think the book implies--if we don't like the results of our actions, we shouldn't be made to suffer them.


(Samuel) "Listen," he says, "I think I want to start over."
(Bethany) "With what?"
"With my life. My career. I think I want to burn it all down. Reset it completely."

I would too if I was facing the extent of the mess he'd made of it. It's nice for him that he has the option of going to live with a gorgeous violinist in New York. I choose that adventure! (JK)


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments Bretnie wrote: "And man I feel like a dummy because I did not see the Periwinkle twist at all! ..."

I don't think you should--I don't have the book in front of me, but it seems like Samuel was 11 yrs old in 1988. That puts Periwinkle out of the running.

I heard there was about 500 pages more to this book originally--I just wondered if Periwinkle being Samuel's father was something Hill flirted with in the original--it feels like the backstory is open to it.

Also: did anyone think that Officer Charles Brown's descriptions of his wife's actions towards their daughter sounded a lot like Laura's descriptions of her mother? I wonder if this too wasn't something that got edited out later--again, as the book is now, the timelines don't work, but it seems like there's a lot of parallelism there.


Linda | 71 comments Bryan wrote: "For me, it comes down to what I think the book implies--if we don't like the results of our actions, we shouldn't be made to suffer them.

(Samuel) "Listen," he says, "I think I want to start over."
(Bethany) "With what?"
"With my life. My career. I think I want to burn it all down. Reset it completely.""


I see what you're saying, and this quote does seem to suggest that one can simply "start over". I guess in my mind, though, the characters did suffer for their actions, have realized it, and are now starting to make different decisions from this point on.

It's nice for him that he has the option of going to live with a gorgeous violinist in New York. I choose that adventure! (JK)

Lol! :D


Kristina | 66 comments Also: did anyone think that Officer Charles Brown's descriptions of his wife's actions towards their daughter sounded a lot like Laura's descriptions of her mother?.

This is a very interesting thought. Too bad, all the timelines do not match, that would be hilarious. But the part about Charles Brown's wife and her "ritual" with her daughter was really weird.


Thank you for posting some quotes. There were some quotes, that I enjoyed or found simply hilarious.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments Marc wrote: "My biggest issue was that it felt like Hill too neatly tied everything up. It felt like I was being "told" an awful lot instead of "shown" and didn't leave me with much to think about on my own..."

I don't know if it's true or not, but it seems to me I see this a lot in modern fiction (well, what I've read of it anyway). I'm not saying that makes them bad books, per se, but it's as if the novelist is imparting worldly wisdom to his readers. Their novels tend to end on this lesson learned kind of note--two that pop into my head right away are The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. For some reason, I don't get the same vibe from fiction written, say, from the 70s and earlier. Maybe it's just me.


message 19: by Marc (last edited Sep 09, 2018 11:40AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
I always feel like "modern fiction" is so large and diverse that I can't really make any generalizations unless they are about particular contests or what's popular (e.g., vampires seemed to have a fictional resurgence for a stretch), but I have read a couple other recent works that remind me of this (The Goldfinch, being one). I certainly like to learn when I'm reading, but there's fine line between illuminating fiction and feeling like you're being lectured to (I think this novel actually fluctuates between those two extremes).

I found the Pwnage quote that amused me:
“If only the real world operated like Elfscape,” Pwnage said, chewing. “If only marriages worked that way. Like every time I did something right I earned man points until I was a grand-master level-hundred husband. Or when I was a jackass to Lisa I’d lose points and the closer I was to zero the closer I’d be to divorce. It would also be helpful if these events came with associated sound effects. Like that sound when Pac-Man shrivels up and dies. Or when you bid too high on The Price Is Right. That chorus of failure.”


Thanks for sharing your quotes, Bretnie!


message 20: by Marc (last edited Sep 09, 2018 11:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Around pg. 300, I was convinced the central ethical dilemma of the book was going to be whether he sold out the mother by writing an exploitative book about her the way he felt he'd sold out Bishop by writing the short story about him. I was quite amused that this was a complete non-issue thanks to all the strings Faye was pulling behind the scenes. Were there plots outcomes or resolutions others expected? Anybody come close to predicting what actually did happen?


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments Marc wrote: "I always feel like "modern fiction" is so large and diverse that I can't really make any generalizations unless they are about particular contests or what's popular (e.g., vampires seemed to have a..."

That's a good point--I should know better about making grand sweeping statements like that (not that it stops me!)

My experience with modern literary fiction is very limited. I don't get ARCs and I don't use the library and I'm not independently wealthy, so most of what I read of this type are from library sales or thrift shops (which is where I found The Nix actually, and which I probably still would have passed up except I found it at the same time this group was considering it for a monthly read.)

I think there is a lot of contemporary fiction out there that would probably suit me better, if I were to make a conscious effort at seeking it out--I get a lot of ideas following these threads here and keep my eye out for it. But, given the nature of the way I purchase books, I'm probably going to get a lot of the 'next great published thing' that someone bought and then found it didn't agree with them.

On the other hand, I've got about 3000 years of other fiction I'm still trying to catch up on, so it isn't like I'm hurting for something to read.

Back to the topic--I didn't see Periwinkle working for Gov. Packer. That was a surprise. I didn't see Periwinkle as Sebastian either. I did expect Samuel's father to play a bigger role, but that never happened--I liked the phone call when his dad's boss was evidently standing right over him during the conversation.

I don't think I was very surprised that Samuel got with Bethany at the end...or at least is pointed in that direction. I think I was expecting a bigger comeuppance for Laura, but that fizzled too. I guess I didn't really predict any of it. The twists were just good enough to be...if not believable, then forgivable.


message 22: by Lyn (last edited Sep 09, 2018 10:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn | 42 comments Bryan and Linda: You both seem to be essentially assuming that by creating a character that does x, and y happens or doesn't, an author is saying something "should" be.

My perspective on it is that perhaps the author was, by creating these characters and situations, commenting on how things in our society actually are, illuminating how ridiculous our society and people often are. I thought this especially with Laura Pottsdam; she's an idiot who succeeds simply because she is aggressive, even though she's terribly incompetent as a student. I imagine she will somehow find a job where she can apply the same skill set (aggressive ignorance) and succeed dramatically. We are living in an age where we have a President who is spectacularly unfit for the position and yet his aggression and hate have only made him more rich and powerful, and his supporters are practicing aggressive ignorance all over the country.


message 23: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Lyn wrote: "Bryan and Linda: You both seem to be essentially assuming that by creating a character that does x, and y happens or doesn't, an author is saying something "should" be.

My perspective on it is th..."


I think that Laura probably changed her name to Kellyanne Conway, and IS in 45's administration! :-)


Linda | 71 comments That’s a great point, Lyn. I think readers naturally look for meaning in books and what the author intended while writing. But maybe some books are simply a reflection of society at the time. I wrote in my post that I hope that Laura would not get very far in the job market, but given your example it’s more likely that she would probably climb her way to high position rather easily using her manipulative ways.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 477 comments Doug wrote: "I think that Laura probably changed her name to Kellyanne Conway, and IS in 45's administration! :-).."

Bingo!


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments Lyn wrote: "Bryan and Linda: You both seem to be essentially assuming that by creating a character that does x, and y happens or doesn't, an author is saying something "should" be..."

Well...maybe. But I didn't think there was a tremendous amount of subtlety here...some characters were obviously characters we were supposed to feel an affinity for and some weren't. How the author resolved these storylines, along with his tendency at the end to swaddle some of these endings with feel-good aphorisms, gave me the feeling he was trying to open our eyes to his point of view. I don't know if he consciously intended that or not--probably not, I would guess--but that was how I interpreted it.


message 27: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn | 42 comments I don't think he's being subtle at all, but rather supplying withering criticism for how sick and stupid our society can be (and I felt better for the intelligent company).

The ending for me could have possibly illustrated a healthier way to deal with the stereotypes and stupidity..., like how Samuel gives up the first impressions of Bethany that he was stuck on, and ends up with something richer, more complex, and more real. Same with his mother.


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I finished the book today and thought it was fine. Marc - I laughed at your "narratus interruptus" comment - I found myself thinking that too. The book moved along quickly for me, and there were parts I really enjoyed - mainly Faye's backstory and some of the scenes with Bethany - but other parts I found super irritating or left me thinking "meh." I did not need all of the Laura Pottsdam stuff and I didn't care too much for the initial Samuel characters. I think Samuel may have been the least character of the whole thing!

I also think the book tied up a bit too neatly at the end, though there were some parallels that I liked and would have enjoyed exploring further. Freya was an interesting discovery. I also liked the parallel between Faye telling Sebastian she would have done the same thing (meaning taking the deal to avoid going to Vietnam) and Samuel taking the book deal to avoid bankruptcy and having his mother thrown in jail.

I thought the Judge Brown and Periwinkle twists were a bit much. It was sort of darkly funny that Periwinkle winds up working for Packer, who hires Brown and speaks with Laura. However, the vengeful cop and secret benefactor to Samuel's success gave me major Great Expectations vibes. The vibes grew stronger when Samuel meets up with Bethany and sees her as a "real" person for the first time.


message 29: by Marc (last edited Sep 11, 2018 05:31AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Since Caroline was so kind to bring him up, what did others think of Judge Brown? Seemed a little one-dimensional to me to basically serve as a villain the reader could despise emphatically.

I find it amusing that none of us, including myself, has commented on the title of the book and the whole notion of the "curse" under which Faye grows up.


Camie Tough book to sum up for sure. Describing this book is indeed like Buddah's fable of the blind men trying to describe an elephant which was a forward in the book and mentioned several other times. I agree with Nadine who called it an " everything but the kitchen sink" book, but in the end the seeming superfluous Laura Pottsdam, Pwnage the Elfscape master, and even the old Norwegian Nix have a purpose in the story.
My personal least favorite part was the overlong political demonstration, my favorite finding out Faye's backstory ( as in who is it that abandons their child at age 11?)
My favorite quote: " Seeing ourselves clearly is the project of a lifetime." Totally agreeing with this one as I'm still wondering at soon to be age 60.


Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
I think most of my opinions of the book have been summed up here by others, but I'll throw my 2 cents in anyway.

Editing. For the love of God, editing. As Marc called it, the repeated narratus interruptus moments quickly grew tiresome, and I thought he spent way too much time beating dead horses with his social commentary. Everything he went off on - the 'folksy' politician, the ridiculousness of many protestors, etc. were easy targets that could have been dealt with equally effectively with simple statements within sentences that still moved the plot forward, rather than lengthy digressions.

I most liked the characters and their interactions, and I really liked how all the different narrative threads started tying together towards the end. I didn't like, as Bryan so aptly put it, how ultimately nothing really mattered about the things they had done - we'll just hit reset and not have to really deal with any consequences! Wasn't that a fun ride?

One thing that really stuck out for me was when Charlie as a cop is thinking about how much he hates the protesters. Then, in his mind, excuses "the Negroes", because its understandable that they would have problems with America. This seemed like a cop out (no pun intended) from Hill. Is there much doubt that Charlie the Chicago cop would have been racist as all get-out? Was Hill trying to maintain some level of sympathy for him? Or, as I think, was he trying to place the whole thing in a difficult but past history from which we can all hit 'reset'?


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
Whitney, I agree with your comments about Brown, especially when we see how violent he gets during the riot. Since the rest of the book ignores race, to mention it as an aside felt like an afterthought.

I also could have done without chapters from the point of view of side characters modeled on real life characters, such as Ginsberg, Humphrey, and the secret agents at the bar (also, thanks for banging us over the head with the conversation about the riot taking place right by the haymarket hotel). Acknowledging their presence helped establish the mood and significance of the event but felt like overkill. He definitely could’ve edited these chapters down to a sentence here and there!


Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Caroline wrote: "I also could have done without chapters from the point of view of side characters modeled on real life characters, such as Ginsberg, Humphrey, and the secret agents at the bar (also, thanks for banging us over the head with the conversation about the riot taking place right by the haymarket hotel).."

Oh, yeah, also Cronkite. (Although I will say that the reader of the audiobook did an excellent job with Ginsburg, and it was one of the most enjoyable parts of listening.) If I was more cynical, I might say Hill was courting the good graces of the older literary establishment. Writing a survey of the 60's, poking gentle fun at the Boomer generation and the failings of their idealism, then implicitly absolving them of responsibility for how effed up things ended up. If I was more cynical.


Bretnie | 702 comments I am very curious to know which parts of the historic narratives were accurate - Ginsberg, Cronkite, any of the political protests.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments Bretnie wrote: "I am very curious to know which parts of the historic narratives were accurate - Ginsberg, Cronkite, any of the political protests."

Someone else might be able to answer this...I certainly don't have any factual evidence, but I didn't read anything I thought clashed with other impressions I had of this time. I suspect he takes a few liberties with Cronkite, but who knows...maybe in Cronkite's memoirs he mentioned interviewing Daley and felt like or wished he was a bird. My hunch would be that, during the protest, Cronkite would have been rather invested in his reportage. He did call the police thugs though.

Talking about Cronkite reminds me of the three things, as a kid, that I thought were unchangeable

1) I never thought the Berlin Wall would come down
2) I never thought we'd drive faster than 55 on the interstate
3) I never thought Walter Cronkite would stop delivering the news.


Grumpy Old Books (revelijenkins) My first time doing a BOTM thingee, so here's what I thought of the book
I would grade this book a 2.5 out of 5 stars. This is between a "meh!" and an OK. Several of the blurbs mention the phrase "the great American novel," sadly I do not thing this book will achieve that status.
However, despite my relatively poor rating, there is much to commend it. Mr Hill is a very good writer and comes up with many quotes eg. "We can tell ourselves we’re not special because we weren’t born with it, which is a great excuse,” and "Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own story that we don’t see how we’re supporting characters in someone else’s." and "you shouldn’t think of it as your mother abandoned you. Instead, perhaps think of it as she gave you up for adoption slightly later than usual.” All thought provoking, incisive literary gems.
Yes Mr Hill is a good writer, what he needs is a good editor. I often enjoy a sojourn down a side adventure, however Mr Hill takes too many and describes them using as many words as possible. It's as if he has a word count to hit and is padding out the book as much as possible, similar to a student struggling to reach minimum length on an essay. The reader has to invest heavily for little return. Pages and pages are spent on a peripheral character's avatar's fall from grace and death in an online game and Alan Ginsberg's various interpretations of the mantra word "ohm."
There are several other areas where the book is engaging. It is a good snapshot of American society 1960s-2010s. It is a biting satire of several areas of modern culture including modern journalism, consumerism, political spin doctoring, collegiate politics and modern day entitlement. The plot, while not a seat of your pants thriller has enough intrigue to keep you steadily turning the pages.
The characters are multi dimensional and develop and change over time. in the book, as in life good guys/ bad guys and happy endings/sad endings are not distinctive black and white but more a sort of drab grey, and always subjective. I am OK with this.
In short an engaging OK book that could have been elevated to a good book with some prunage.


Bretnie | 702 comments Another section that really resonated with me was Faye's introduction to the protest movement in the 60s. I really liked the commentary on "free love," questioning whether some it was just another way to cater to men's desires, but with the disguise of it being the woman's choice.

I didn't grow up in the 60s, but it made me think a little more about how much women have gone through and continue to go through. We've made a lot of progress, but we still have a ways to go.

I thought about my own strong reaction to Faye' leaving her son as a child and how men have left their families forever. Not that we excuse them, but somehow I judged Faye differently.


message 38: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Bretnie wrote: "Another section that really resonated with me was Faye's introduction to the protest movement in the 60s. I really liked the commentary on "free love," questioning whether some it was just another ..."

Interesting, and I too thought about how differently we judge a mother leaving a child, as opposed to a father... and whether Samuel's myriad 'problems' can all be put down to Faye's abandonment.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments Marc wrote: "It felt like I was being "told" an awful lot instead of "shown" and didn't leave me with much to think about on my own."

This sentence struck me as a couple of days ago I listened to a review of a Umberto Eco book by the Bookchemist (who is Italian) in which he gave reasons why someone might not like the book (which he loved). He cautioned Americans, who he said hate being told rather than shown, that it was very much a book that told!


message 40: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Umberto Eco can tell me anything he wants! :D

But seriously, I do think it depends a lot on the writer and the tale.


message 41: by Hugh (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
I finished the book, and have decidedly mixed feelings. I liked the parts about the Chicago confrontation, but much of the rest was tedious, most of the characters are one dimensional and the humour very heavy handed. The best 2 or 300 pages could have made a better more tightly focused novel.


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments OK, I finished this book. That's 620 pages of my reading time I'm not getting back again. It wasn't bad, mind you. It was ... OK. But I didn't feel the author had control of his material. It struck me as very loosely (as opposed to tightly) written.


message 43: by Sue (new) - rated it 1 star

Sue I wanted to like this book. It had a lot of promise.

I'm usually willing to overlook some rambling, as long as it's entertaining. But this book really dragged for me, with too many characters who I just didn't like.

**Rant Alert**
We all come to a book with our own points of view, and this book triggered some personal bad feelings I have.

My mother in law abandoned my now husband when he was 12. For no real reason except for pure selfishness. MIL is from the same era and generation as Faye, same pointless, aimless, self-centered baby-boomer ethos. This really overshadowed my reading of this book to be honest. I think the author was clearly not abandoned by a parent, and his handling of that topic felt cavalier to me.

I also am fully sick of baby boomer angst. It's been fed to us on TV, in movies, in books, for my entire life. I'm finished. I'm on a personal boycott of any more baby boomer stories. This was the last one, and how fitting that I really just didn't like this book.

**Rant over**


message 44: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Well since we've been getting a lot of negative feedback, perhaps these rave reviews and interviews will help balance things out... or not!

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/27/bo...

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/bo...

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-en...


Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Doug wrote: "Well since we've been getting a lot of negative feedback, perhaps these rave reviews and interviews will help balance things out... or not!..."

I do notice that even the positive reviews (except the last one) say how the book could use some pruning. Most people's opinion seem to largely hinge on how much they appreciate Hill's sense of humor.

This, from the first article, is interesting: "One result of his meandering process is that the novel bears almost no resemblance to the story he started working on 12 years ago — a pointed examination of the culture wars and the polarization of American politics through a mother and son’s relationship.

“My first impulse was to write a really heavy-handed political novel; then I realized at some point, that’s just rude,” Mr. Hill said. “At the very least, it’s better manners to show people a good time.”

I've never considered good manners to be a requirement for good writing. Treating serious issues as fluff strikes me as a cop-out.


Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Sue wrote: "**Rant Alert**
We all come to a book with our own points of view, and this book triggered some personal bad feelings I have.

My mother in law abandoned my now husband when he was 12. For no real reason except for pure selfishness. ..."


I agree with you, Sue, without having anything like this in my own background. This is one of those serious issues that Hill decided to treat in a fluffy manner. I compare it negatively to The Hours, which handled the abandonment of a child by a mother who felt trapped in a much more considered manner.


message 47: by Kay (last edited Sep 24, 2018 05:26PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 73 comments I disagree that Faye abandoning her son was treated in a fluffy manner - Samuel's whole life was upended by being abandoned. I actually thought - finally, a mother leaves because she is an asshole and there is no need to explain that. If she was the father, there will be much less discussion on this point. What I didn't like about the whole thing is how easily they reestablished a relationship again - that felt like a cop-out.


Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
Kay wrote: "I disagree that Faye abandoning her son was treated in a fluffy manner - Samuel's whole life was upended by being abandoned. I actually thought - finally, a mother leaves because she is an asshole ..."

I didn't see Hill's intent as simply dismissing Faye as an asshole. Her entire backstory seemed to me show how she was groomed for and pushed into a conventional and unfulfilling life. But, then, as you say, the ease of their reunion makes it seem like she is largely indifferent to her previous actions. That, and her father's other family saying how he didn't matter because they had great lives, seemed to offer a "they only hurt themselves" weak tea.

So, while Faye came off as an asshole, I don't think that was Hill's intent. I think it was a result of his need to avoid throwing hardballs.


message 49: by Kay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 73 comments Oh, I agree - Hill totally tried to humanize her and make her sympathetic, and I just didn't need that - that to me was the weak part.


message 50: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug As the month comes to a close, just wanted to thank everyone who participated in this month's lively discussion ... and am pleased that the majority of you enjoyed the experience.


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