Tuesday, July 20, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: All's Well by Mona Awad

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Magical realism is my least favorite genre. However, I’m occasionally intrigued enough by a blurb for a story to give one of these novels a try. All’s Well by Mona Awad had an interesting premise, so I requested it. I found it impossible to put down.

Miranda Fitch is the unfortunate protagonist. A young woman, once an up-and-coming stage actress, Miranda suffered a fall during a performance of Macbeth which has left her with severe, debilitating, chronic pain. She has tried everything: surgery, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, psychiatry, and large doses of pain killers and muscle relaxants. Nothing helps. Suffering destroyed her career and her marriage. It has aged her beyond her years.

When it first became apparent that Miranda could not return to the stage, her husband urged her to apply for a teaching job in a small theater program at a local college. She was hired and has, for a few years, directed the annual student Shakespeare play. This year, she intends to direct All’s Well That Ends Well, a play she once starred in and remains obsessed with. However, the students, particularly the spoiled and minimally talented female leader of the theater group, Briana, want to put on Macbeth. Since Briana’s parents are the main financial supporters of the college’s theater program, Miranda finds herself backed into a corner by the administration.

So far, the novel hasn’t strayed from contemporary realistic fiction. It presents a horrifying picture of chronic pain syndromes. In particular, it demonstrates how chronic pain is poorly understood and how female pain, in particular, is perceived as not quite real. Because the myriad physicians and therapists Miranda sees are unable to find an anatomic reason for her pain, they are dismissive of it. Or are they? They continue to treat her to the best of their ability. However, they grow impatient with her and frustrated by her. Maybe they do believe her, but they can’t help her.

It’s not surprising that Miranda is unpleasant to be around. It’s understandable that she is so miserable that she spreads misery. I wanted to mentally distance myself from her, so I can imagine how her fictional friends, colleagues, and students wanted to avoid her. I found myself growing anxious, knowing that accidents happen and chronic pain can strike anyone. Yikes! Awad does a wonderful job of showing Miranda suffering the throes of pain and loneliness.

Then, things get weird. She meets three strange men, witches of a sort, in a bar. They seem, somehow, to know all about her. They offer her a drink, an elixir, that puts her into a dreamlike state, and they explain that pain can move. From person to person. Miranda discovers she can alleviate her pain by transferring it to others. And, naturally, there are people whom Miranda would like to see suffer.

Miranda is transformed from a suffering, somewhat unpleasant, but generally good person, to a giddy-with-health, sexy, playful, absolutely horrible person.

The magical, otherworldly part of this novel fits right in with its Shakespearean themes. Even though it’s weird, I was drawn into the weirdness. Miranda is such a believable character, that even when the world around her spirals out of control, even when she seems lost in other-worldliness, the story remains grounded in her struggle against what pain had done to her. Even though it’s in the magical realism genre, I was wowed by this thought-provoking book.

No comments:

Post a Comment