Guest Post by Kevin Brown
In Wellness, Nathan Hill has written a novel that is of its time, while still being timeless. In exploring the particularly American obsession with wellness and improvement, what he is really excavating is the power and peril of stories. His second novel follows Jack and Elizabeth, a couple who fell in love at first sight in 1993, and who are negotiating their marriage after just over two decades of being together. They tell themselves stories about their marriage, as well as their childhoods, hoping to make sense of their lives. Hill weaves minor characters’ stories in, as well: Jack’s father becomes obsessed with conspiracy theories; Elizabeth’s friend Brandie hosts a group that believes one can manifest happiness by speaking it into the universe; and Kate and Kyle, a couple who find meaning through polyamory and a critique of monogamy. While Hill satirizes each of these characters—and more, especially the postmodern cultural conversation in academia in the 1990s, one of the most humorous sections of the novel—he also understands why they (and we) need stories at all. When Elizabeth seems ready to turn to nihilism, wondering if anything is real, her mentor tells her, “Believe what you believe, my dear, but believe gently. Believe compassionately. Believe with curiosity. Believe with humility. And don’t trust the arrogance of certainty.” That’s good advice for our divided country and world, now and anytime anyone might pick up this novel.
Wellness by Nathan Hill. Alfred A. Knopf, September 2023.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.