Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead
reviewed by Lou Jacobs
A heady mix of themes exploring death, sexuality, and mental health explodes with a heavy dose of humor in this debut gem by Emily Austin. Our reluctant heroine, Gilda, a twenty-seven-year-old anxious atheist and self-professed lesbian cannot stop ruminating about death.
She’s constantly thinking about the glaciers that are thawing, the sea turtles going extinct, and often will surf the net and click on articles, such as: “Weird Ways People Die.” She recently has been fired from her job at the bookstore, as her employer felt she was untrustworthy and irresponsible and not fit for customer service. It wasn’t her problem that she had difficulty waking up and was rarely on time and frequently missed shifts. She admittedly is consumed about thinking about litter, nuclear bombs , racism, child abuse, and how disgusting humans are. Imagine every human being has a butt—and how disgusting is that!
Gilda is worried about paying her next rent. She doubts there is much of a market for lesbian sex workers, and since she is such a bad actress, straight sex work is out of the question. She has a collection of dirty dishes in her bedroom. Adding one atop another feels like building a castle, with each addition more risky. The thought of washing them, feels a lot like going for a jog. She will do it tomorrow. And then, our bumbling and kindhearted Gilda is involved in an auto accident. Although her arm is obviously broken, she refuses an ambulance.
“I do not like to be a spectacle. I would rather be run over by another van than be surrounded by paramedics touching me inside such a conspicuous vehicle.” She drives herself to the emergency room, and is met by a nurse, who asks about the problem today. Even the janitor recognizes her and greets her, with a “Hey, girl” She is known in hospital vernacular as a “frequent flyer.” She has been told a multitude of times that “nothing is wrong with you” and you’re probably experiencing a panic attack and is referred to a psychiatrist. This time her arm is casted, but not before she is questioned about the possibility of being pregnant. She emphatically states that there is no chance of that. And muses to herself that they think she is celibate. I am not. I am just gay and thus blessedly exempt from the hazard of pregnancy.
Gilda coming to the realization that she needs help coping with her mental health, responds to a flyer for “free therapy” and finds herself at the doorstep of a Catholic Church. Father Jeff greets her, assuming she’s here for a job interview, to replace his loyal and recently deceased receptionist Grace. His interview is sparse with little in the way of significant substance and quickly hires her when she admits to being familiar with the computer and the internet. He fails to even obtain her name, address, or phone number. When Gilda shows up and checks the Church inbox emails, she notes an ongoing stream of unanswered emails from Rosemary, apparently a dear friend of Grace. She can’t bear to ignore the emails and doesn’t have the courage to tell her the “bad news.” Instead, Gilda strikes up an email correspondence with Rosemary, impersonating Grace by email. This reluctant Catholic is consumed trying to learn about the mass and other “Catholic things” and attends mass daily and listens intently to Father Jeff’s sermons. She learns it is an abomination if a man lies with another man and must be put to death. “Yikes! Thank God this doesn’t seem to apply to women. I’m disappointed that God is so homophobic, but glad that he’s forgotten about lesbians. I guess I would rather be forgotten than put to death.” (Much of the humorous repartee takes place in Gilda’s mind.)
Another musing of Gilda’s that must be recounted. “It turns out the crackers I stole are the body of Christ. After eating more than half the bag, in which I paired Cracker Barrel cheese with God’s transubstantiated body … I googled the crackers so I could leave a review … I planned on writing … Boring. These crackers are tasteless and bland.” In one of Father Jeff’s sermons he proclaims: “One day you are going to die … everyone in this room will someday die… It’s important to remember every day that passes brings us closer to the day we die.” Gilda muses: I wish he had chosen a different topic. Gilda has been known in conversation to say, “I’m dying.” When queried with: “Yikes, how long do you have?” she answers gravely, ‘I have no idea.” Gilda’s life starts to unravel the day she fields a call from Deputy Parks from the city police department. Apparently, the death of Grace may have occurred under suspicious circumstances. Grace was one of the patients of nurse Laurie Damon, who has recently confessed that she intentionally over injected elderly patients with drugs to end their life and suffering.
Emily Austin on her first outing has provided a literary “screwball comedy” that explores multiple significant themes with aplomb and hilarious understated humor. Her propulsive prose demands out loud laughing and page-turning. Her darkly funny meanderings may provide some offense to the religiously inclined. Under all this humor, we are treated to a deep and moving portrayal of everyday life, while coping with depression and anxiety, in order to establish relationships and a meaningful life. It allows us to appreciate the fragility of mental health and the tribulations of sexuality. Shining through this warm hearted and tender narrative is the essence and fragility of the human condition. We can all relate to the cringeworthy and unusual predicaments that plague Gilda’s life. It’s important to know Gilda’s thoughts about the question: When did you come out? “I never know how to answer that question, because I don’t feel like I am out. I feel like I am in a constant state of coming out, and likely I always will be. I have to come out every time I meet someone.”
Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing an Uncorrected Proof of this novel in exchange for an honest review. I sincerely cannot wait to read Emily Austin’s next offering, considering this gem is actually her debut muse.