Book Review

All’s Well

All’s Well

  • Author: Mona Awad
  • Genre: Literary Fiction
  • Publication Date: August 3, 2021
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: chronic pain, drug abuse, alcoholism, medical trauma, blood

Rating: 2 out of 5.

From the critically acclaimed author of Bunny, a darkly funny novel about a theater professor suffering chronic pain, who in the process of staging a troubled production of Shakespeare’s most maligned play, suddenly and miraculously recovers.

Miranda Fitch’s life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating, chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now she’s on the verge of losing her job as a college theater 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 hellbent 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.

With prose Margaret Atwood has described as “no punches pulled, no hilarities dodged…genius,” Mona Awad has concocted her most potent, subversive novel yet. All’s Well is the story of a woman at her breaking point and a formidable, piercingly funny indictment of our collective refusal to witness and believe female pain.

As a sufferer of chronic pain, I was prepared to fall in love with this story. The premise sounded so interesting, and I’m a big lover of dark humor. Unfortunately, it just didn’t really deliver on any of the promises of the summary for me.

Miranda is an unlikable character, even at her best. She’s frustrating, whiny, and just a horrible person. Don’t get me wrong — living with chronic pain sucks. The majority of people, even the ones closest to us, will never understand the agony we live in, often questioning our pain. It makes it easy to snap, and take our frustration out on others at times. But it just felt like Miranda did that so often, except at the times when she really should have stood up for herself: when she was dealing with medical professionals who were actively harming her instead of helping her. Rather than speaking up and letting them know, she’d tell them that their “therapies” were helping her, and then leave the office in even worse pain. Afterwards, she’d be angry that they didn’t help her, expecting them to just read her mind and just miraculously know that what they were doing wasn’t working. As the story went on, she became more and more unreliable, until I had no idea what was actually happening and what she thought was happening. 

One other note — as someone who was popping both painkillers and benzos like they were Tic-Tacs for an extended period of time (as evidenced by the cover, which I really did love), Miranda should have been struck with crippling (and potentially fatal) withdrawal symptoms when she suddenly stopped taking these medications. Of course, she just stopped taking them suddenly and had no ill effects. That struck me as even more unrealistic than believing than the event that suddenly took her pain away altogether. 

I didn’t see any of the humor reflected in the story, anywhere. What I did see was a lot of magical realism, which I didn’t realize was going to be such a large element in the story. Even as far as magical realism goes, this felt kind of over-the-top. It was one of those stories that made less and less sense as it went on, even as I kept reading, hoping that it would eventually make sense. Sadly, it continued to devolve, until the disappointing ending that left me with even more questions than I had before. Ultimately, I discovered that this wasn’t a good fit for me, and I was left disappointed and wishing that I had DNFd it when I first started feeling that it wasn’t a good fit, rather than sticking it out and hoping for it to make sense. 

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