Glancing at the cover of this book we know right off the bat something is up with that well. There are too many historical writings about fountains of youth to count, not to mention the legendary island of Avalon and utopian villages such as Shangri-La. In The Puddingstone Well, the second novel from William Westhoven, variations of these myths are indeed relied upon, but with a contemporary spin. In the Prologue to Part One, the phrase “what history does not recall” lets us know this is Westhoven’s tale for the telling.
Our first protagonist is a freelance writer for music magazines and websites. Ten years out of college, Jersey is “a needle on a scratched record, stuck in one place.” He considers his career “a pointless grind” and his relationships with women are viewed with a similar attitude of hopelessness. Adding to his woes is a series of bizarre dreams for which he has no explanation.
The second protagonist, Maxwell Silver, is the founder of Poppyseed Technology. One of the world’s richest men, Max believes in “sharing his fortune, especially at a time when the recession had made it hard for so many.” A gizmo called the PoppyPack had taken the world by storm ten years ago, and Max is just releasing his latest invention, the PoppyTab. Now in his mid-forties and world-famous, he dreads being in the spotlight, due in large part to various life-threatening illnesses he is eager to keep secret.
Jersey’s friend Randy, a college buddy, and Max’s personal assistant, Molly, serve as sidekicks and muses for the two main characters. As Jersey’s dreams start driving him nuts he turns himself into a would-be investigative journalist, delving into the recurring symbolism in his dreams and how it possibly ties to people he’s known. Randy calls Jersey’s pursuit of the spec article “weird, like Nicholas Cage weird. Following some kind of apple crumb trail to the promised land?” Meanwhile, from his apparent death bed, Max gives Molly some instructions she’s able to comply with, but not necessarily willing.
As in his first novel, Westhoven gives us imaginative character and place names, philosophical themes that manage to avoid sermonizing, plot twists and subplots that keep the pages turning with enough humor and romance to keep the reader engaged, and characters with questions of self-identity. However, where in his previous novel Westhoven’s characters were many times tied to places and events, in The Puddingstone Well our characters are tied to various threads of legends through delightful references.
Another difference is the building of the mystery to be solved. In this book, the mystery takes the entirety of Part One to develop, whereas in his first novel Westhoven announces the entire mystery in the Prologue. Speaking of prologues, Westhoven uses them with good effect.
The only worry I had when I got to Part Two concerned the magical mystery stuff: would it be hokey? I was impressed with the gradual transition into finding out exactly what is up with that well. But this book is really about the characters, their relationships with one another, how the well affects each one, and what they choose to do about all of it. A thoroughly entertaining romp – Westhoven has delivered again. I give this book a rating of 4.5 stars.