The New Prosperity Museum
by Edward Averett
Genre: General Fiction / Historical
Print Length: 358 pages
Reviewed by Genevieve Hartman | Content warnings: suicide, racist violence, conversion therapy
An epic saga about a gifted yet unfortunate assistant curator of the New Prosperity Museum
The New Prosperity Museum by Edward Averett follows the life of Henry James George, the boy with three first names. Largely set in Washington state, in small towns such as Rochester and Aberdeen, this novel provides a look into post-World War 2 America and holds the idealism and pain of a country that is embattled but optimistic for the future.
It’s clear that Henry is exceptionally bright when he begins reading at age three. But he also suffers several great personal tragedies by the time he is seven: the death of a sister, the near-death of his other sister, and the mysterious disappearance of his best friend Wayman. Henry is called a murderer by the town, especially by his friend’s grief-crazed mother, but he knows that Wayman’s disappearance was a mystical one. And perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Henry saved his sister’s life by reading aloud to her…
Henry eventually comes to realize that he is a curandero, a Chehalis healer blessed with spiritual healing gifts, despite not being Indigenous. This is the starting point for a long conversation around stolen land and stolen power. Henry learns that his gift, while able to make him famous, also has the power to harm him, and is sent away by his parents to live at the New Prosperity Museum, under the guise of assisting the elderly curator. He will live there, off and on, for the remainder of his life.
The New Prosperity Museum is both deeply rooted in American history and intently focused on the fictional lives of Henry and his loved ones. It attempts, quite successfully, to take the pulse of the times, detailing parts of the Vietnam War, the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and more from the perspective of small-town folks. The museum itself stands at the center of the text as a monument of hopefulness and memory, with a welcome sign reading “COME SEE YOUR FUTURE IN THE PAST”—a sign that will eventually be worn away by the elements over the years.
Because of the massive scope of the novel, The New Prosperity Museum can be hard to follow at times. It doesn’t shy away from moments of intense violence, and it clips along at lightning speed, fitting an impressive amount of Henry’s life into 357 pages. It asks that readers slow down and confront painful truths, even when it is difficult or unpleasant to do so.
At its core, The New Prosperity Museum encapsulates an era of American history, casting thoughtful eyes on the more hopeful aspects of our past while refusing to erase the ugliness that accompanied it. This book is both a celebration and a lament, offering a grounded perspective on our past and future while whisking readers into moments of magical realism. The result is a genuine and fascinating read.
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