You know that debate that goes on between food bloggers and the people who visit their sites? The one where the visitors are all “I’M JUST LOOKING FOR A RECIPE, I DON’T NEED THE STORY ABOUT THE DOG YOU HAD WHEN YOU WERE SIX!” and the bloggers and recipe creators are like “THIS IS MY WORK THAT I AM GIVING YOU FOR FREE, I’LL WRITE WHATEVER I WANT TO WRITE!”? You know that old shit fight? I’ve never complained about the preamble to the recipe (to be completely honest, I have huffed about it and rolled my eyes, but I’ve never said anything out loud) because deep down I’m on the side of the bloggers. It’s only now that I realize that my position may be related to my affinity for doing the same because that’s kind of become my schtick since I amped up the book reviews here.
There’s a synopsis of the book below, but I want to talk about a part early on when the theatre director is fielding challenges/complaints from her student actors who would prefer to perform a different play than the one that she has chosen.
I try to smile at them. I try not to accuse them, even with my face. I try not to say, You don’t fucking understand anything. My face says, I’m indulging your candid youth, the brute stupidity that you are trying to pass off as charm. I play the romantic soul, the misty-eyed teacher.
This reminded me of my first English class in high school, grade 11. Mr. Elson decided that instead of reading Romeo and Juliet to satisfy the Shakespeare portion of our curriculum, we’d read A Midsummer Night’s Dream instead. We’d all been expecting Romeo and Juliet because it was pervasive at that time. Every movie, every tv show, every high school circumstance we knew included Romeo and Juliet. This was a curveball. He did his best to convince the class that we would enjoy the comedy of his selection and I, for one, truly did. I can’t say how it felt to be the teacher in that class, but I do know that I felt the same kind of frustration of youth when class was disrupted by the students who constantly whined about not getting it and stalled the pace of the reading.
All’s Well by Mona Awad
Earlier this year, I ordered a copy of Mona Awad’s last book, Bunny, because I was in the mood for an Easter read and its cover fit the bill. I was only a few pages in before I started to feel kind of mad that nobody had told me to read it sooner. It’s exactly the twisted contemporary fiction that I love only amplified by ten. (Spoiler: it is not an Easter book. And, yes, I did know that going in.)
When I heard that her newest novel, All’s Well, was coming out, I immediately preordered it. Then, when I got the opportunity to read an ARC last week, I jumped at the offer as well.
Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating, chronic pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theatre director. Determined to put on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that promised—and cost—her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hell-bent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers.
That’s when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda’s past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what’s coming to them, and the invisible, doubted pain that’s kept her from the spotlight is made known.
Okay, take all of the mysterious and creepy weird influence out of this book and there is a very real and very valuable message in it. It represents the people enduring chronic pain and how their voices are often stripped of them. Miranda’s struggles within her body and within her treatment are very clearly told and should be concerning for all of us. There is a particular scene when she is trying to speak up and is completely overpowered by her “caregiver” and it’s eerily imaginable and truly sickening.
Beyond that theme, the book takes a sharp turn and becomes more mystical and supernatural and that’s where the real fun begins. (I’m really trying hard to share how much I enjoyed this book without giving away any more than the synopsis did!) The immersion into the world of theatre is fascinating and the rollercoaster ride of events is as dramatic as any Shakespearean plot. (I am also very tempted to read All’s Well That Ends Well now.)
Part of the triumph of this story is the vicarious revenge that our protagonist gets on the people who have wronged her. Her justice feels so good…until it doesn’t. After all, everything has its price.
I posted on Instagram the other day that “I am desperate to get to the end, but also wishing it would last forever” and then I blasted through the rest of it. Phew. The only words to describe the back half of this book are: frantic, intense and fast-moving. Once I finished reading it, I spent a good several minutes staring at the ceiling, thinking only, “whaaaaaaat?!?!?”
All’s Well will be out on Tuesday, August 3rd and if you like a good, twisted thrill, get your hands on a copy.
Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House Canada for the advanced copy.
We’re on vacation in Alberta and we made a stop at the Calgary Central Library the other day. What a beauty. Find some of my photos here and check it out if you’re ever in town.