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Edward Averett
The New Prosperity Museum
Henry James George and his friend, Wayman Simpson go exploring one day at age seven. Wayman is mysteriously whisked away and many accuse Henry of having murdered him. He spends his life trying to get out from under this notoriety. One day he discovers he can cure people by reading to them, but his gift comes at a price: with each cure, he loses a little of his own life force. Faced with a clamoring public, Henry escapes to The New Prosperity Museum, a site dedicated to the miraculous inventions created after World War II. Here Henry faces the biggest challenge of his life when he must choose between saving his best friend or himself.
This warm yet inventive novel from Averett (author of Cameron and the Girls) blends a midcentury coming-of-age story with a bold dash of magic and incisive generational inquiry. Born in 1950, Henry James George faces curious tragedies in his childhood in coastal Washington State, but he’s also often told how epochal his life will be, especially by Mrs. Obregon, a healer of the Chehalis, who informs Henry he has been “chosen” as a curandeo, a healer who must not boast of his gifts. (Why this rare honor goes to a white kid she can’t say.) His school teacher, meanwhile, sees his generational possibility: “You are the blessed children of the future,” she declares to his class, “the beneficiaries” of the unprecedented prosperity and innovation of the post-war era.

The century is Henry’s. Such great expectations can’t work out as everyone hopes, of course. These mentors—including Mrs. Pinckney, the pillbox-hatted proprietor of the titular museum—see in him the chance to improve the world. But Henry must grow up and prove himself: first that he’s not the murderer he’s accused of being when, at age seven, his friend goes missing, and then later, when greatness is expected of him as a healer, that he’s not a fake. Averett conjures surprising trials and choices for his hero, plus some unexpected intimate relations. Often the story considers what it means or costs to heal—including the wrenching question of what responsibility Henry has to one friend who didn’t want his intervention.

This is a heady, at times provocative novel that never settles into predictability or easy answers. The nature of Henry’s healing is resonant: he must read to a patient, connecting with them, a tribute to the power of the written word, which the mass-media explosion of Henry’s would diminish. That’s one of many fascinating threads here, like that museum enshrining the boundless promise of an age long past.

Takeaway: A fascinating novel of healing and mid-century generational promise.

Comparable Titles: Thomas Berger, Donald Barthelme.

Production grades
Cover: B-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A