An Interview with the Next Charles Dickens?

Oct 4, 2016

Expectations are high for Iowa native Nathan Hill’s debut novel. He’s been compared to the novelist John Irving, and John Irving is comparing him to Charles Dickens. The novel is called The Nix, and its Dickensian scope makes it hard to say what it’s about: love, loss, secrets, a mother and a son, a father and a daughter, politics, video game addiction, academia, and of course, Norwegian folklore.

In the political plotline of the novel, Hill’s work seems to have predicted aspects of our current election season, despite the fact it was written eight years ago. Inspired by the 2008 protests of the Bush-Cheney administration, Hill at first wanted to write “this really heavy-handed political novel,” but he gave up on that eventually.  

Still, his character Governor Packer, a would-be Republican presidential candidate, has led some to draw comparisons with this election season.

“I certainly didn’t model him on real life,” Hill explains. “When I wrote him, I was like, ‘Nobody’s ever going to say anything like that out loud,’ and then, sure enough, eight years later, saying those things out loud is just commonplace.” Hill calls his novel’s prescient quality “an obvious example of reality becoming much weirder than fiction very quickly.”

Nathan Hill, University of Iowa graduate and author of The Nix

Besides politics, the novel also lampoons academia, video game culture, and social media.

“It’s funny-- some of the stuff that people are calling ‘satire’ is just reality with a different name,” says Hill.

One example is an online platform called “iFeel,” which allows people to post their current emotions and respond to those of their friends with an option called “Auto-Care.” Hill compares this to the “Like” button on Facebook.

“There’s a lot of satire, but I feel like I’m cheating because I’m not really changing that much.  I’m just kind of presenting some of the things we do – myself included – but you just give it a slightly different name and sometimes you can see the absurdity of it.”

In this segment of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks to Hill about the novel, his own resemblance to the main character Samuel Andreson-Anderson, and the ways his home state influenced the work.