Summary: Harrison is the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. Now he’s in his mid-thirties and spends most of his time not sleeping.
Stan became a minor celebrity after being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara is haunted by the messages carved upon her bones. Greta may or may not be a mass-murdering arsonist. And for some reason, Martin never takes off his sunglasses.
Unsurprisingly, no one believes their horrific tales until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer. What happens when these likely-insane outcasts join a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within and which are lurking in plain sight.
Thoughts: A group therapy session. A support group for survivors, only these aren’t your average survivors of terrible events, if anyone in such a situation could be considered an “average” survivor. Each one has faced supernatural horrors and has come out the other side, not whole, definitely damaged, but still alive to tell their stories. But when nobody wants to hear those stories, when nobody believes the truth behind the events, who can they turn to but each other, after meeting at a very specialized group put together by Dr. Sayer?
The stories of each of the group members are horrific, ranging from Stan’s experience of being partially dismembered and eaten by a family of cannibals, to Martin’s experience of augmented reality games allowing him to see beyond and come into contact with terrifying creatures. And bit by bit, all their stories do come to light over the course of the novella, and I’m probably not the only reader who thought that it would have made for incredible reading to go deeper into the events themselves, to get a closer look at everything that landed everyone in that therapy group to start with. That Gregory managed to tell such complete stories in such a short space is a real testament to his ability as a writer; as much as I would have loved to have seen more, the important parts of the stories were told, giving you more than enough to appreciate what everyone went through.
I often end up thinking things like this when I read novellas. I’m so used to novels that when I read something shorter, I want more. I want to read it all fleshed out and bigger and long enough to allow me to completely immerse myself in it for days without coming up for air. Novellas are so quick, it feels like I just have a chance to get my feet wet before it’s over. But that perceived weakness really is a strength, too, since the author has such a small space to cram a coherent story into, and the very fact that Gregory can do this just blows me away. We Are All Completely Fine doesn’t just tell the backstories of multiple characters, but also the overarching story that ties them together and keeps things moving forward. It’s multiple stories combined into one, and just take a moment to contemplate the skill that takes to accomplish.
All of the stories fit so perfectly together, with one exception. I found that Dr. Sayer’s story seemed to come out of left field. There were small hints trickling through the cracks, and it was obvious that she wasn’t undamaged by strange events, but the way her story tied back to Stan’s just seemed tacked on. It wasn’t supposed to be obvious until the end, which makes sense since any revelation earlier would have ruined everything, but when her story comes together, it just seemed overdone, like it wasn’t enough for her to have some supernatural connection and be touched by weirdness herself, to be connected to them all by what had happened to Barbara (which affected all the group members, in a way).
But this is entirely a subjective thing and other people may have had no problem with that aspect of her story. It certainly did tie everything up in a neat package, no threads really left dangling except those that were supposed to dangle.
One aspect of the way the story was told that did interest me was the narration, and I’m left puzzled but intrigued by the choice. The first paragraph or so of each chapter is presented as though it’s being told by the same person, using “we” and “us” to indicate the group, so you think that it’s all being told by a member of the group itself. Then it switches to the third person, each chapter highlight one character or another, never going back to the same sort of first-person pronouns until the next chapter begins. It takes a while to realise that eventually, all of the group members have been talked about (and you’re sure that it’s all of them, because the story’s clear to point out the number of males and females in the group very early on), and this mysterious voice who calls everyone “we” isn’t actually going to get talked about. It’s one of those things that can hit you out of nowhere, and once I realised it, I couldn’t help but start to speculate on why. Was there somebody else there after all, an invisible someone watching everything? Was one of the members of the group split, in a sense, to think of themselves in the third person to prevent getting too close to trauma, and if so, which one? Or was it just a cool storytelling trick to hook readers and provide a little more interest? (Not that it needed it, because the story was fantastic even without that as a hook!)
What this all comes down to is that if you’re a fan of horror, or of anything Daryl Gregory has written elsewhere, or just of fantastic novellas that demonstrate exemplary storytelling, then you ought to read We Are All Completely Fine. The pacing is tight, not a word wasted, and for all that most of the immediate action occurs at the end, it never once feels slow or ponderous. Masterful writing and a sensational set of intertwining stories keep you reading, keep you pushing for details, and it’s a great thing to whet your appetite for more of Gregory’s superb writing. It’s early days yet, but this is already a strong contender for Best Novella in 2015’s eventual year-end Best Of lists!
(Received for review from the publisher.)