The Nix by Nathan Hill

Any kind of comparison to John Irving? Lock me in. An endorsement from John Irving? Sign me up. It’s how I came to read The Nix by Nathan Hill.

At 640 pages, there’s a lot to The Nix but essentially, it is the story of Samuel Andresen-Anderson and his mother, Faye. Shifting between the present (Samuel is a stalled writer, bored teacher at a local college, and obsessive player of an online video game, Elfscape); Samuel’s childhood; and Faye’s college years, the story unravels why Faye walked out on Samuel when he was a child. Having known nothing about her whereabouts for years, Faye shows up on the evening news, throwing rocks at a presidential candidate. The media paints her as a militant radical with a sordid past, quite different to what Samuel remembers. Continue reading

Upstate by James Wood

Do you ever start a book, notice something peculiar, and then can’t see anything but the repeated peculiartity? Such was the case with Upstate by James Wood (I’ll get to the peculiarity).

Alan Querry is a successful property developer from the north of England. He has two daughters: Vanessa, a philosopher who lives and teaches in upstate New York, and Helen, a record company executive based in London. The women are very different, “…Helen did things while Vanessa thought things”, but neither had ever quite recovered from their parents’ bitter divorce; the early death of their mother; and their disapproval of Candace, Alan’s second wife. Continue reading

A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop

A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop is a quiet, contemplative collection of stories about a brutal topic – the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires. 

You remember mostly, three a.m.: they found our neighbours in clusters, mostly in amalgam fillings and tyre rims trickled into what looked like snowy earth – silvers, gunmetal greys and blacks so petrol-shiny you’d think of a currawong’s wing… We were comforted, afterwards, that things ended for them together, holding each other under betadine-and-copper-coloured smoke. Under a sky that’d once promised kinder things: maybe Vegemite toast on Sunday morning, maybe a weeknight, after-work kiss. Continue reading

Mischling by Affinity Konar

I vividly recall one of my lecturers responding to a student’s complaint about their mark for an essay – the lecturer said that if the student thought he started at 100% and deducted marks for errors as he read, the student was mistaken – “You start with no marks and earn them as I read…” It comes to mind because like the lecturer, I go into every book hoping for five stars but stating with just one. Half stars and whole stars accrue (and sometimes fall) as I read. By the end, I settle on a score – it’s arbitrary, but is useful measure when I look back on my reading. Continue reading