What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY’s picks for book lovers include the much-talked about debut novel, The Nix, and a non-fiction account of "rock's darkest day," Altamont.
The Nix by Nathan Hill; Knopf, 620 pp.; fiction
A Nix is a creature out of Norwegian folktales that enthralls children, only to carry them off to be drowned. Though no actual supernatural monsters hit the pages of his dazzling debut novel, Nathan Hill finds broad use for the Nix as metaphor. That “the things you love the most can hurt you the worst” could serve as a subtitle.
The Nix jumps viewpoints and time periods with delightful abandon: there’s sixth-grader Samuel in 1988, prone to crying jags, as if sensing that his mother is about to forsake him; video game addict Pwnage in 2011, obsessed with playing the fictional World of Elfscape; Samuel’s mother Faye, caught up in the riots of 1968; and finally the grown-up Samuel, an embittered professor who “secretly likes when he gets to fail a student. It’s like revenge for having to teach them.”
A once-rising literary star, Samuel is years overdue with the manuscript of his novel. When his long-lost mother makes national news by pelting a presidential candidate with stones, Samuel meets with his publisher and agrees “to deliver a book that told (his) mother’s story while also ripping her to shreds, rhetorically.”
USA TODAY says **** out of four stars. “Rich and multilayered… impressively light on its feet.”
Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day by Joel Selvin; Dey St., 322 pp.; non-fiction
An account of the infamous, anarchic free music festival at the Altamont Speedway in 1969 headlined by the Rolling Stones, in which a young concertgoer was murdered by a member of the Hells Angels.
USA TODAY says **** stars. “With this lurid yet deeply cautionary tale, Selvin shows what a bad, strange trip it was.”
The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State by Lawrence Wright; Knopf, 350 pp.; non-fiction
A collection of Wright’s reporting on the war on terror for The New Yorker over the last decade; by the author of The Looming Tower.
USA TODAY says ***½ stars. “Few American writers understand the phenomenon of Islam-based terrorism better than writer Lawrence Wright.”
The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood; Norton, 358 pp.; fiction
A woman who discovers her husband is cheating belongs to a quirky book club whose theme for the year is the books that had the most impact on their lives.
USA TODAY says *** stars. “Deserves a spot on your summer reading list…Hood’s novel is rich with pleasures.”
The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville; Del Rey, 224 pp.; fiction
Miéville takes readers to an alternative history, where Nazis have kept hold of France past 1945. Strangely horrifying creatures created via a blast of artistic Surrealism — quite literally an art bomb — are used on opposing sides of the continuing conflict.
USA TODAY says *** stars. “Miéville creates a fully realized and familiar yet fantastical landscape.”
Contributing reviewers: Eliot Schrefer, Matt Damsker, Ray Locker, Patty Rhule, Brian Truitt