Sunday, May 14, 2023

Review: Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

There seem to be a plethora of novels about quirky and/or neurodivergent characters lately and I am drawn to every one of them. Sometimes they are utterly charming and sometimes I just don't connect the way that I expect to (or that everyone else seems to). I don't know if it's a me thing or a book thing. And unfortunately, this book was one that was just an okay read for me.

Gilda is a bundle of anxiety and depression who spends much of her time spiraling in her own brain. She's found a flyer for free therapy at a local Catholic Church but when she goes to the church, Father Jeff mistakes her for someone interested in the church receptionist position. She doesn't correct him and finds herself employed. This is only a problem because she is both an atheist and a lesbian who has to now pretend she is a straight, single Catholic woman. This is the sort of thing that happens to Gilda more often than you might imagine. She's awkward and uncomfortable making others uncomfortable by setting the record straight, spending a lot of time going along to get along. In fact, she starts writing emails to the former, deceased receptionist's old friend because she cannot bring herself to tell Grace's friend that Grace is dead, and she especially can't do it once there's a question of whether Grace was murdered.

It's hard to get a grasp on Gilda as a character despite the book being told in first person and the reader knowing so many facts about her: she is a hypochondriac who is well known at the local hospital; she is so depressed she can't wash her dishes; she worries desperately about her seemingly alcoholic younger brother; she is completely fixated on death and has panic attacks. This should add up to a knowable character and yet it somehow doesn't quite. She herself is an odd combination of caring deeply for and being emotionally disconnected from the people around her. It's almost as if the sense of her own aloneness is transmitted to the reader, keeping her at a distance.

The novel mostly meanders through Gilda's anxiety without much of a plot to it. Even the major question of whether Grace was murdered is rather tangential to Gilda and the inner workings of her unhappiness. The novel follows the church calendar from Advent to Easter, moving through Twelvetide, Ordinary Time, and Lent in between, mirroring Gilda's journey from beginning to rebirth, although the ending is nowhere near as hopeful as Easter would imply. Over all, this was a quick read and while I didn't love it, others sure seem to and to find themselves reflected in it so it quite possibly is just a me thing.

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