Health fads and dysfunctional families and love potions, oh my! Break out your thinking cap for this novel of ideas.
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When Jack and Elizabeth meet as college students in the ‘90s, the two quickly join forces and hold on tight, each eager to claim a place in Chicago’s thriving underground art scene with an appreciative kindred spirit. Fast-forward twenty years to married life, and alongside the challenges of parenting, they encounter cults disguised as mindfulness support groups, polyamorous would-be suitors, Facebook wars, and something called Love Potion Number Nine.
For the first time, Jack and Elizabeth struggle to recognize each other, and the no-longer-youthful dreamers are forced to face their demons, from unfulfilled career ambitions to painful childhood memories of their own dysfunctional families. In the process, Jack and Elizabeth must undertake separate, personal excavations, or risk losing the best thing in their lives: each other.
He lives alone on the fourth floor of an old brick building with no view of the sky. When he looks out his window, all he can see is her window—across the alley, an arm’s length away, where she lives alone on the fourth floor of her own old building. They don’t know each other’s names. They have never spoken. It is winter in Chicago.
Barely any light enters the narrow alley between them, and barely any rain either, or snow or sleet or fog or that crackling wet January stuff the locals call “wintry mix.” The alley is dark and still and without weather. It seems to have no atmosphere at all, a hollow stitched into the city for the singular purpose of separating things from things, like outer space.
She first appeared to him on Christmas Eve. He’d gone to bed early that night feeling horribly sorry for himself—the only soul in his whole raucous building with nowhere else to be—when a light snapped on across the alley, and a small warm glow replaced his window’s usual yawning dark. He sat up, walked to the window, peeked out. There she was, a flurry of movement, arranging, unpacking, pulling small vibrant dresses from large matching suitcases. Her window was so close to him, and she was so close to him—their apartments separated by the distance of a single ambitious jump—that he scooted back a few feet to more fully submerge himself in his darkness. He sat there on his heels and stared for a short while, until the staring felt improper and indecent and he contritely returned to bed. But he has, in the weeks since, come back to the theater of this window, and more often than he’d like to admit. He sometimes sits here, hidden, and, for a few minutes at a time, he watches.
To say that he finds her beautiful is too simple. Of course he finds her beautiful—objectively, classically, obviously beautiful. Even just the way she walks—with a kind of buoyancy, a cheerful jaunty bounce—has him thoroughly charmed. She glides across the floor of her apartment in thick socks, occasionally doing an impromptu twirl, the skirt of her dress billowing briefly around her. In this drab and filthy place, she prefers dresses—bright flowered sundresses incongruous amid the grit of this neighborhood, the cold of this winter. She tucks her legs under them as she sits in her plush velvet armchair, a few candles glowing nearby, her face impassive and cool, holding a book in one hand, the other hand idly tracing the lip of a wineglass. He watches her touch that glass and wonders how a little fingertip can inspire such a large torment.
Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
I love a novel with big ideas but only if it remembers to bring plenty of emotion, too. So I was thrilled to find in Nathan Hill’s epic new novel, Wellness, plenty for both my head and heart to hold onto. On the surface it is simply the story of a struggling marriage. But as you delve further it expands rapidly like an accordion. With brio and insight, Hill exhilaratingly explores everything from the history of condensed milk to the class politics of speakeasies.
But let’s rewind for a minute.
This story begins classically: boy meets girl. Both aspire to carve out a place in Chicago’s underground art scene. As they strive to prove themselves and leave a mark, they hold fast to one another. Then all of a sudden the couple find themselves married with child and, to their surprise, unfamiliar to each other. As they fulfill parenthood’s demands and their dreams diverge, they’ve drifted out of each other’s orbit. In order to try and find a way back to each other, each is forced to confront history and things hiding in their hearts and minds.
Wellness puts the things we think we know and understand under a microscope. It made me think deeply about who and what I care about most and left me more appreciative for them. If you are looking for a novel with real things to say about “how we live now” that will stick with you long after the final page, read on!