Book Review: We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Posted on July 24, 2014

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For people who have peeked behind the curtain–those who’ve seen monsters, both human and nonhuman, returning to any semblance of normalcy can be impossible. What happens to victims after the public eye moves on? As one character in the novel explains:

…”I might be entertaining the idea of tamping down my nihilism. Just a bit. Not because life is not meaningless—I think that’s inarguable. It’s just that the constant awareness of its pointlessness is exhausting. I wouldn’t mind being oblivious again. I’d love to feel the wind in my face and think, just for minute, that I’m not going to crash into the rocks.”

“You’re saying you’d like to be happy.”

“Yeah. That.”

Using humor and suspense, each character’s horrific story unfolds, through group therapy, of course! I found this a wonderful premise. Gregory skillfully used point-of-view and verb tense to highlight group-think. He begins each chapter with an ambiguous first person plural, then zooms into specific third person. For example:

There were six of us in the beginning. Three men and two women, and Dr. Sayer. Jan, though some of us never learned to call her by her first name. She was the psychologist who found us, then persuaded us that a group experience could prove useful in ways that one-on-one counseling could not. After all, one of the issues we had in common was that we each thought we were unique. Not just survivors, but sole survivors. We wore our scars like badges.

Consider Harrison, one of the first of us to arrive at the building for that initial meeting. Once upon a time he’d been the Boy Hero of Dunnsmouth. The Monster Detective. Now he sat behind the wheel of his car, watching the windows of her office, trying to decide whether he would break his promise to her and skip out.

I’ve not encountered many authors in the horror genre who flex literary muscle as well as Gregory. His approach was perfect for the story vehicle–the characters interact mostly in group therapy. The interpersonal dynamics of the therapy sessions were consistent with those I witnessed as a university student during the year I was considering a career in psychology. The psychological accuracies added to the novel’s verisimilitude, which is a considerable feat considering the paranormal aspect in character’s story.

A nod to Lovecraft needs to be mentioned. Many writers in the horror genre have been influenced by Lovecraft. Many try to emulate his writing, to the point of losing their own voice. The atmosphere in Gregory’s novel is as intriguing as Lovecraft, full of suspense and dread, but unique enough that I didn’t feel the author was riding any coattails. Perhaps it was the humor and modern touch that sealed my enjoyment. In all, I highly recommend this novel to those who don’t have an issue with things that bump in the night and leave behind racing hearts and a little gore.

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