We Are All Completely Fine
by Daryl Gregory
I encounter quite a lot of episodic hardboiled urban fantasy, and one constant source of entertainment (and aggravation) is wondering what happens to the minor characters after they are abandoned by the camera. Take the television show Supernatural. After the Winchesters roll out of town, what actually happens to Screaming Girl #1 who loses her father/boyfriend/girlfriend to an angry pumpkin man or psychotic razor-hands or grabby ghost? Or what about the bystanders who were unlucky enough to have a car on the street during Harry Dresden’s rampage in Dead Beat? (Imagine the insurance claims.) Or all those unfortunate churchgoing ladies in Mike Carey’s Vicious Circle? Certainly anyone who ran into a fey from the October Daye series would require counseling, but what, exactly, would one tell one’s therapist?
We Are All Completely Fine explores the lives of the survivors of supernatural situations, but in a less absurdist fashion than other sorcerous self-helpers that I have encountered. The story begins from the perspective of Harrison, a nihilistic ex-monster-hunter, as he vacillates outside of a psychologist’s office, not quite ready to step inside and join a newly formed group therapy. Harrison might not have much faith in therapy, but then, this is a rather unique group, for each member has been touched by the preternatural: an apparently self-possessed but inwardly tormented housewife, an elderly man still fixated upon a childhood trauma, a young man who retreats into a world of his making, and a silent, enigmatic girl with haunted eyes.
The novella is a little unusual in everything from perspective to structure. We Are All Completely Fine starts each chapter in first person plural, spoken as if by an unidentified member of the group, then switches to third person limited. I’ve only seen this style a few times, but I think it adds an interesting effect here, strengthening the sense of the group as a sentient entity in its own right. As one might expect, much of the novella is simply the slow unravelling of the characters’ stories. The psychological aspect is thoughtful without ever becoming pretentious, and I loved the occasional glints of humour. While some of the characters never quite became three-dimensional for me, others came to life. One of the surprisingly empathetic characters, to me, was Stan, the elderly amputee who lost so much that he turned his victimhood into his identity. He is a talker, but he uses his words, his stories and complaints and pleas for attention, as a shield. Unsurprisingly, my favourite of the bunch was the taciturn, saturnine, guilt-ridden, self-destructive Harrison. Harrison’s interaction with the psychologist are constantly entertaining:
"She believed that people were captains of their own destiny. He agreed, as long as it was understood that every captain was destined to go down with the ship, and there wasn't a damned thing you could do about it."
I was also amused by Harrison’s origin story, which involves a seaside town called “Dunnsmouth,” a name rather reminiscent of the classic “Innsmouth.”
Given the basic premise, it’s unsurprising that the author opted for something of a kitchen-sink’d Lovecraftian magic, but there were a few creative touches that I adored. I was a little dissatisfied with the ending, which seemed too neat in some areas and slightly plotholed in others, but I think much of this was due to the constraints imposed by the length.(show spoiler)
In fact, the biggest drawback, in my opinion, was that it was a novella rather than a novel, but at least the short length meant that I was able to enjoy a reread. I would love to revisit the characters and world, and I have high hopes of a sequel (pretty please?). We Are All Completely Fine is not a good fit for everyone; after all, its major theme is coming to terms with horror-movie-style trauma. There are graphic scenes and extensive discussions of mutilation, and I’d definitely slap a trigger warning on it. However, if you’re looking for something a little different and with a psychological bent, I’d definitely recommend it. One final thought:
"Is it ever over? Do we ever get to just...win?"
Harrison chuckled. After a moment he said, "When I was a kid I used to play soccer. This was in San Diego, before we moved to Dunnsmouth. It was this park district league, and they didn't keep score. Losing would be bad for self-esteem. So at the end of the season, every player got a ribbon. A blue ribbon, stamped in gold, that said 'Participant.'"
Martin looked at the glasses in his hand. "Fuck."
"Congratulations," Harrison said.
**Note: Quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof and may therefore not reflect the final manuscript. They do, however, provide wonderful examples of the charm and mood of the book as a whole.**
~~I received this ebook through NetGalley from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, in exchange for my honest review. ~~