Review: We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory

Note: I received a digital galley of We Are All Completely Fine from the publisher for review consideration.

DARYL GREGORY AUTHOR DISCOVERY YEAR CONTINUES. Not only has Daryl Gregory produced another fine piece of science fiction — this one a novella — but I have at last discovered why I love his books so much. It’s cause his wife is a psychologist! (He thanks her in the acknowledgements.) No wonder Gregory wrote about crazy people so brilliantly in Afterparty. No wonder he is always writing about confronting impossible, insane situations with the only available tools (science, therapy) and knowing all along that those tools are nowhere near adequate to the task. What do I love even more than creepy, inventive science fiction? Creepy, inventive science fiction informed by a background in psychology!

Ahem. Sorry. I’ll try to control myself.

The therapy group is composed of sole survivors: the only ones to survive horrific, supernatural incidents. At first only Stan will speak openly about his story, about the cannibals (demon cannibals?) who tied him and his comrades up for weeks and ate them, bit by bit, limb by limb. And the group knows a little — or thinks it does — about Harrison, who was, long ago, the model for a series of books about a teenaged monster-killing hero. Martin refuses to take off his glasses. Greta never lets anyone catch a glimpse of her skin, and Barbara will only say that she was attacked twenty years ago. The group leader, Dr. Jan Sayer, doesn’t push them for more. She’ll let the stories come in their own time.

Your question at this point may be, Do we find out gradually what happened to each member of the group, and is it inventively horrible in each case, and do they ultimately team up to do a mission together to fight against the darkness in their own small way? And the answer is, yes. That is exactly how it goes down. It’s THE BEST. If this were the pilot episode of a show on Syfy, I would set up a Change.org petition for six seasons and a movie.

The characters’ backstories are revealed in fits and starts, sometimes in great detail and sometimes in very little. Like the characters themselves, we aren’t privy to knowing why these things happened to them; only that they happened, and now they are part of that character’s emotional landscape, and must be dealt with. Without some of the details I wanted (who were the Weavers before the demon hybrid thing showed up? How did Barbara come within the orbit of the Scrimshander, and how did she get away?), I kept thinking how much I’d enjoy reading a full book about any of these characters in their lives before they join the group (or, in Martin’s case, after).

Some quick vague spoilers in this section only: I love that we find out at the end that Dr. Sayer has a story of her own to tell. Her own fight not to be defined by her damage turns out to include helping other people to heal from theirs. That is a true thing from real life. Sometimes people respond to the unimaginable pain they have experienced with this exact kind of generosity and grace, and it is remarkable and moving to me.

My only tiny gripe is that the chapters begin with a “we” section, where the group is speaking collectively about itself. This didn’t really work for me. Gregory doesn’t manage to make that “we” feel like an integrated part of the rest of the book, which is all narrated in third person, often from Harrison’s point of view and with detours into Barbara’s and Martin’s.

But really, that’s a small gripe for a novella I overwhelmingly loved. I was heartbroken when it ended, especially as it means that there will be no more new Daryl Gregory for me for a while. Up until now I have had a new Daryl Gregory thing every two months or so. I should have held off on reading one of his books, and saved it for a rainy day. I will just have to do some rereading.

Other Daryl Gregory books I have been excited about this year: Pandemonium, [Devil’s Alphabet was just okay], Raising Stony Mayhall, and Afterparty. I am a scary Daryl Gregory evangelist. (PS Ana please read Afterparty, cause I think you will love it.)

You can read an excerpt from We Are All Completely Fine over on Tor.com, to get the flavor of it. Then if you are interested, Publishers Weekly has good things to say about it, as does Locus. See? Everyone agrees with me. Let me know if you reviewed it too, and I’ll add a link to this post.

  • I love how this is post is the title opposite of mine today, genius. Highlight of my day 😀

    This sounds rather fascinating, for something outside my usual genre comfort zone I am very intrigued.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahahaha, nice. I do like that one of my fave books from last year and one of my fave books from this year have titles that are only one word apart.

  • Oh oh I hate collective narrating! And I’m not too keen on cannibalism either (while never having tried it myself, I should add).

    • Gin Jenny

      I do too but please don’t let that deter you from reading Daryl Gregory! I think you would like Afterparty quite a bit, for instance. And there is not much collective narrating here; just a little bit at the start of each chapter.

  • I really like the premise — a lot, but don’t like novellas much. Mainly because if I like the characters and the plot, I want MoRe. Sounds as if you did, too. Want more, I mean.

    • Gin Jenny

      I did, but Gregory gets a very complete story in, despite the short length. So although novellas are usually not my speed, I recommend this one highly.

  • Yes, I remember your review of Afterparty. I don’t think I made the time to read this author. I need to check him out. I like the premise of this novella much better. I am all for psychology in books!

    • Gin Jenny

      ME TOO. Especially — and this is a fairly niche interest — I am interested in psychology overlapping with science fiction, where people who experienced the kinds of traumatic events people often experience in scifi are now having related psychological problems. That is awesome because I am interested in psychology, but also awesome because that is totally what would happen in real life. That is why I liked Iron Man 3 so much.

      ANYWAY. Read this! It’s good! Daryl Gregory is marvelous.

  • I love your enthusiasm. This sounds like it should be longer than ‘novella’ though!

    • Gin Jenny

      I mean, I’d have been thrilled if it was longer, but Gregory gets a complete story finished in the length he has. So there’s no need for it to be longer. I just wish it were because I was enjoying it so much.

  • Sci-fi therapy! I commented on another site just recently how everyone I visit seems to be reading sci-fi at the moment. Which is tricky for me as I don’t – not really intentionally, just because it appeals less than other things. But I love the idea of a psychological basis to this novel – perhaps my love for shrink lit will ease me over the sci-fi divide!

    • Gin Jenny

      I have been liking sci-fi more and more in the past year or two. Daryl Gregory epitomizes a ton of aspects of sci-fi that appeal to me particularly, so he’s been a great discovery for me.

  • I’m really intrigued after reading your review….and I usually don’t read novellas but I shall check this one out. “Creepy, inventive science fiction”……SOLD!

    • Gin Jenny

      YES! yay! Do, and then come tell me what you thought of it!

  • You totally sold me–I went to Netgalley and read it right away, and it blew my mind. You’ve been telling us to read Daniel Gregory, but descriptions of his books are all so grotesque that I didn’t think I’d like it. Holy cow, this was a good book. Thank you!

    I agree that the real emotional consequences of the wild things that happen in fiction get overlooked–one of the things I liked about The Hunger Games was how the characters were affected in the long run, not only by practical changes in their world, but by PTSD. Honestly, I could have used a bit more detail from those parts of the meetings. Still, it was really so, so good.

    I’m going to review it on Wednesday, but for now, just plain old thank you!

    • Gin Jenny

      Yayyyyyy! I am so pleased you liked this! Honestly, this comment made my day. I love successfully recommending awesome things to people.

  • Aonghus Fallon

    I must check this out, as I’ve read both ‘Pandemonium’ and ‘The Devil’s Alphabet’ and enjoyed them. Most of ‘Pandemonium’ was great and no, I didn’t see the twist. The ending – or rather the explanation? Not so hot.

    I’d regard ‘The Devil’s Alphabet’ is the stronger book as it does touch on some big issues (racism, obesity, teenage pregnancies) and Rhonda is a great character. There are two areas I’d be a teeny bit ambivalent about. One is the depiction of the Argos, which no matter how well-intentioned, did suggest a certain stererotype to me. The other was the betas. Gregory could have really explored this further and basically fudged the core issue – ie, the betas would have outnumbered and outbred humanity within a hundred years.

  • Yay, new Daryl Gregory book! I am fairly certain I’m going to get the title mixed up with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, just fyi.

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