This was a long and complicated book, but very engaging. The main character was Samuel, a thirty something English professor at a lesser known junior college outside Chicago. Samuel is also a once promising author who published one story, got a book deal and never wrote the book. Mostly he plays video games, never having recovered from his mother abandoning him when he was 11 and losing the girl he loved from that same age.
The book moves back and forth in time - the anchor is 2011 as Samuel explores his past. We then move into his childhood where we see the months leading up to his mother's departure. At the time he is obsessed with twins, Bishop and Bethany (the girl he loves his whole life). There are several chapters that explore their lives. Bishop was abused as a child (which Samuel regrets only figuring out years later) then eventually ends up in the army. Bethany is a child prodigy on the violin and becomes a famous musician - her relationship with Samuel is off and on.
The book then spends many chapters on the 1968 when Samuel's mother Faye is in college and unwittingly gets caught up in the student protests at the time of the Democratic convention. Samuel finally discovers the story of why her mother never told him that she even went to college or what transpired there. We meet her radical friends Alice and Sebastian and see why a police officer with the unlikely name of Charlie Brown held a life long grudge against her.
Eventually we even travel to Norway to see the secrets Samuel's grandfather had buried there and which haunted him and by extension Faye. In fact the Nix is a Norwegian spirit that Faye learns of as a child and actually seems to provoke panic attacks.
There are also interesting side chapters about Pwange, a video game addict who plays the online games with Samuel. They show the severe effects on his health which are probably a metaphor for something but really just end up being interesting diversions.
At the end Samuel discovers things about his mother as well as his past that certainly caught me by surprise, yet were believable.
All in all, I really enjoyed the book - but give yourself time to read it.