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WELLNESS by Nathan Hill


by Nathan Hill

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 2023
ISBN: 9780593536117
Publisher: Knopf

A bittersweet novel of love gained, lost, and regained over the course of decades.

“They stare across the alley, into dark apartments, and they don’t know it, but they’re staring at each other.” It’s not an outtake from Hitchcock’s Rear Window but instead the wistful longings of two lonely people. Jack Baker, newly arrived in Chicago from Kansas in the 1990s, is a talented photographer who bristles when practical-minded people ask him what his work is about—to say nothing of why he works with Polaroids, which, a hipster friend reminds him, “are mass-produced, instant, cheap, impermanent.” Yes, and that’s the point, for though Jack comes from the windblown prairie, he’s pretty avant-garde. Elizabeth Augustine is a quadruple major at DePaul, “five majors if you count theater, which I have no talent for but enjoy nonetheless,” and exactly the woman Jack hoped he would meet. Life proceeds: That arty hipster becomes a real estate mogul who plants them in a development very much outside their price range until Elizabeth pulls down the big bucks from the psychological research firm that gives Hill’s latest its simple title. “Basically they were a watchdog group, a subcontractor for the FDA and FTC, sniffing out bullshit,” Hill writes, but Elizabeth, scraping by while Jack pulls down pennies as an adjunct professor, discovers that there’s hay to be made creating bullshit rather than exposing it—making airplane seats narrower, for instance, and then selling once normal-sized seats at a premium. Hill romps through our soufflélike culture with a nice sendup of academic literature and broad jabs at memes ranging from organic food (“one-hundred-percent bioavailable”) to progressive parenting, open marriage, and cult behavior (“Elizabeth knew...that the thing that most effectively strengthened and deepened delusions was being surrounded by people who shared the same delusions”) while delivering a story that suggests that while love may not conquer all, it makes a good start.

A warmhearted satire that chronicles our “perfectly, stupidly, dreadfully elegant” accommodations to life.