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Reviews of Wellness by Nathan Hill


A Novel

by Nathan Hill

Wellness by Nathan Hill X
Wellness by Nathan Hill
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  • Published:
    Sep 2023, 624 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Chloe Pfeiffer
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About this Book

Book Summary

The New York Times best-selling author of The Nix is back with a poignant and witty novel about marriage, the often baffling pursuit of health and happiness, and the stories that bind us together. From the gritty '90s Chicago art scene to a suburbia of detox diets and home-renovation hysteria, Wellness reimagines the love story with a healthy dose of insight, irony, and heart.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Have you ever been under the placebo effect—in a medical or other context? After reading Wellness, can you look back on certain events, decisions, or changes that took place in your life and attribute those changes to belief alone?
  2. Dr. Sanborne's theory of love is one explanation for why Jack and Elizabeth were attracted to each other (including the intimacy questionnaire that Elizabeth uses on their first date). Can you think of any other theories or explanations—from psychology, popular culture, or other traditions/systems—for how their relationship unfolds?
  3. Which of the wellness trends mentioned in the book (Benjamin's diets and supplements; Jack's failed workouts; Elizabeth's and Lawrence's various healing potions...
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BookBrowse Review


Hill's own theory, evidenced also by his debut novel, The Nix, is that we can understand our present selves by understanding our pasts. That's why he gives us ample episodic flashbacks that shed new light on what we've already read, showing Elizabeth and Jack's lives to be more painful, or fraudulent, or complicated than we'd previously realized, and in so doing, creating a kind of unified theory of their lives. We get long scenes of Jack's upbringing on the Kansas prairie and Elizabeth's rich-kid one in suburban New England, plus a history of Elizabeth's con men ancestors and a chilling set piece about Facebook algorithms. Some parts are more interesting than others (is there anything worse than picking up a novel about the complexities of adult life and having to read about AP classes and SAT scores?), but one could thumb through this book and find any number of standalone episodes to reread...continued

Full Review Members Only (1090 words)

(Reviewed by Chloe Pfeiffer).

Media Reviews

Wellness is a stunning novel about the stories that we tell about our lives and our loves, and how we sustain relationships throughout time — it's beyond remarkable, both funny and heartbreaking, sometimes on the same page...It's a monumental achievement: a masterpiece by an author who has, in the space of two novels, become indispensable.

From life's most striking moments to its most mundane and overlooked, along with scientific insights dispersed throughout, Hill extracts meaningful lessons. Expansive in both scale and content matter, Wellness is nonetheless a quick and captivating read: a brilliant, touching account of undertaking self-exploration with someone else by your side.

New York Times
It's a tall order to wrestle so much secondhand material into something emotionally resonant, and, intentionally or not, the same pop psychology Hill examines — with its tendency toward simple, all-encompassing solutions — pervades the novel's own logic...Hill's storytelling abilities are impressive, if maddening, and underneath all the moving parts, his novels vividly capture lonely Midwestern childhoods and real yearning for connection and understanding.

Library Journal (starred review)
Hill offers a smart, expansively written portrait of a marriage that also captures the social landscape of the last two decades.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Hill blends a family chronicle with cultural critique in his expansive and surprisingly tender latest ... This stunning novel of ideas never loses sight of its humanity.

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

Author Blurb Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Wellness is one of the funniest, saddest, smartest novels I've ever read. In his portrait of one foundering marriage, Nathan Hill has encapsulated the pathologies and possibilities of our troubled era. With his razor-sharp satire and heartbreaking pathos, his stylistic virtuosity and human warmth, Hill has written both a propulsive page-turner and an artistic achievement of the highest order. I didn't think I could love a book more than The Nix until I read Wellness. It's a flat-out masterpiece. "

Author Blurb Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half
A hilarious and moving exploration of a modern marriage that astounds in its breadth and intimacy.

Author Blurb Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End
Nathan Hill has synthesized about a hundred years of that distinctly American delusion called self-improvement, and Wellness is the whip smart and gently comic result. Epic in scope, domestic in scale, it's a book that defies anyone to read it and willingly pick up a dumbbell or worry about counting steps ever again. Hill has released you, America, and his book will leave you not only fortified but amazed.

Author Blurb Omar El Akkad, author of American War
Wellness is such a beautiful, sometimes sad, sometimes satirical but most of all honest book about the many people a person becomes—the way a life, in time, inevitably upends itself. A love story of dislodged chronology, Nathan Hill's brilliant interrogation of a single relationship spiderwebs out into almost every facet of our contemporary anxieties. Few writers working today have dissected, with such a sharp scalpel, the fundamental paradox of modern American life: this hopelessly broken need to fix what may not need fixing, to reach with utter desperation for a version of better that may not be better at all. Read Wellness with caution: it lays so much of our little self-deceptions bare.

Author Blurb Richard Russo, author of the North Bath Trilogy
Ambitious, deeply engrossing, whip-smart and ultimately heartbreaking, Nathan Hill's Wellness is all this and much more.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Controlled Prairie Burning for Maintenance

Photo of a controlled burn at the Froland Waterfowl Production Area in Minnesota, showing a worker wearing fire protection gear and standing in front of a burning strip of prairie In Nathan Hill's novel Wellness, protagonist Jack is from the Kansas prairie, where his father was an expert at managing prairie fires. Prairie fires may look terrifying and unwieldy, but in fact they are often purposeful and controlled, and play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. In much of North America, prairies were historically sustained through regular, intentional fires by Native people.

There are a few different but related reasons that fire is so effective for maintaining prairie land. Crucially, fire stops the spread of trees and other woody vegetation by burning saplings before they mature enough to disperse seeds. If those saplings get too big, they steal sunlight and water from the prairie plants ...

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Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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