Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin (coming 6 July 2021) is the story of twentysomething Gilda, an atheist lesbian who has anxiety that profoundly affects the way she tries to muddle through life. It seems like every time she tries to get help, she is drawn into something else that she doesn’t intend because she also has boundary issues.
After having been in a car accident, Gilda drives herself to the emergency room, where we find that she is a frequent visitor because of panic attacks. She was fired from her job at a bookstore for missing too much work, because she can’t get out of bed. When a house near her apartment catches fire and the cat, Mittens, is lost, Gilda sets out to search for him after going to get a fire extinguisher, cleaning her lint trap, unplugging her stove, and throwing out all the candles in her apartment.
She finds an ad for free mental health services and at the address, finds an old gothic church. The priest, Jeff, thinks she’s there for the clerical job and Gilda doesn’t tell him otherwise. Of course, he assumes she’s Catholic and not an atheist lesbian. She needs the job, so she plays the role and works at the recently-departed Grace Moppet’s desk. After checking the church’s email, she finds a number of emails from Grace’s friend Rosemary, who doesn’t know that Grace is dead.
Her younger brother, Eli, an art-school dropout living at home with their overbearing parents, is having trouble with drinking, and Gilda doesn’t quite know how to deal with that. She attends Catholic mass for the first time and is terrified she is revealed as a fraud. She won’t return texts during work from the woman she’s seeing, because she is afraid they can tell she’s doing something gay. And then a woman she meets at a baptism wants to set her up with her brother-in-law, Giuseppe, who starts texting her, and she doesn’t feel like she can explain why she doesn’t want to go out with him, because she will lose her job.
After Gilda replies to Rosemary’s emails as Grace, the police start asking about Grace, because a local nurse has confessed to killing many of her elderly patients. Gilda is already obsessed with death as part of her anxiety, and being in close proximity to Catholic culture and replacing someone who was possibly murdered doesn’t help. Her brother is spiraling out of control and won’t return her texts, and Giuseppe is really persistent about getting to know her.
After cutting herself and going to the emergency room (again), Gilda finally gets on antidepressants. But they don’t start working right away, and she goes through a very dark time. And the police begin investigating her because they find out that she was impersonating Grace and emailing Rosemary.
In some ways, it reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, but Gilda was more concerned about other people’s feelings than Eleanor was. And I appreciated that Eleanor’s transformation to becoming more mentally healthy was facilitated by therapy. Gilda didn’t actually get to therapy despite trying, but I wish she had. Or maybe Austin’s intent was to show that becoming involved in the life of the church was a kind of therapy?
Also, it seemed that Gilda was really, really struggling and suicidal, and then, she just wasn’t. I wished that there had been more of a rationale or baby steps for how she got better.
While I wouldn’t consider Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead to be explicitly fat-positive, it is weight-neutral. At one point, Gilda is with the girl she’s seeing, Eleanor, and notes that she won’t let her touch her stomach, even though Eleanor is thinner than Gilda. So then Gilda starts thinking about how strange it is that we waste any time thinking about our bodies, our skin, or how our fat is distributed. Later, she thinks about how humans look like pig-apes, uglier than apes because we don’t have fur, and that a lot of naked bodies are unsightly. So Austin is clearly aware of the pitfall of our culture’s preoccupation with bodies and I think she made a welcome choice to avoid diet culture and fatphobia.
Overall, I really liked it and kept reading because I wanted to make sure that Gilda was OK. She is the friend you know is a mess, but she has a good heart and you want the best for her. Kudos to Emily Austin for steering clear of fatphobia and thanks to NetGalley for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review. Mark your calendars for its release in July 2021!