In Los Angeles, around the area where Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue converge, there is a huge building, the size of a city block and royal blue. This building is the main Scientology Center; the small road leading to the parking garage is called L. Ron Hubbard Way. Late last year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie The Master drew attention for being kinda-sorta about Scientology. But The Master was mostly about what the day-to-day business of being a cult looks like. I went into the theater expecting to be scared, but The Master basically just looked pretty.

This was my context when I picked up Jeanne Thornton’s The Dream of Doctor Bantam. When most people read the word cult on the back of a paperback, they either think of the Illuminati or Scientology, and Thornton’s given a few interviews saying she was inspired by the latter. I assume other readers will bring some similar associations to Doctor Bantam, plus or minus Lawrence Wright’s recent treatments.

But I recommend leaving the Scientology context behind when reading Doctor Bantam. It would be a shame for readers to decide what the book will be like before they even crack the spine. The book doesn’t really function as an examination of life in one cult or another. Instead, it’s about what it is to be the kind of person susceptible to joining a cult — and how close we all are to being that kind of person. It’s also about what it is to be the kind of person who falls in love with someone in a cult, and how close we may be to becoming that kind of person, too.

Read the full review at Full Stop.

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