In Emily Austin’s debut novel, a young woman named Gilda shares the inner workings of her desperately, darkly anxious mind. Obsessed with death and catastrophe, Gilda stumbles through her life in a way that is simultaneously painful and endearing. Reminiscent of the titular character in the breakthrough TV series “Fleabag”, Gilda’s fears and foibles are equal parts raw and outrageously real.
“I clench my steering wheel while I stew intensely with the reality that I am a living, breathing thing that is one day going to die. Reckless drivers can snuff me out. I am trapped inside this fragile body. I could be run off the road. I could be crushed by a van. I could choke on a grape. I could be allergic to bees; I am so impermanent that a measly bug could hop from a daisy to my arm, sting me, and I could be erased. Black. Nothing.”
Though Gilda’s anxiety is palpable and all too familiar, it is also often snort-inducingly funny. Her wryness is infectious, her irreverence a delight. When Gilda, a confirmed atheist, poses as a devout Catholic to secure a secretarial job at a church, her foibles brought tears to my eyes.
“The body and blood of Christ,” Jeff shouts at the head of the church while holding up a chalice and a small gold pot full of what is, allegedly, the body of Jesus Christ himself. I glance around the room to see if anyone else looks put-off by the grisly, cannibal concept. The crowd booms an affirming, “Amen,” and I realize as they do, that I, alone, am disconcerted. Jeff pops a piece of God into his mouth and chews.
“The body of Christ,” the old woman at the front of the line says to me while holding up a small white circular piece of God’s human body.
I nod, and she places the flesh in my hands. I reluctantly chew on God’s bland, Styrofoam-cracker body while Jesus’s woeful eyes stare down from the crucifix above me.
When Gilda begins to study the Bible to aid her in her deception, her insights are once again deadly serious and deeply funny.
“I can’t help noting the use of the male pronouns. I wonder whether this directive applies to me. Am I subject to a womanly loophole? Whoever wrote this book prioritized men so much, he forgot about the other half of humanity. It seems like I can curse my parents with no repercussions at all. If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death. Yikes. Thank God this one doesn’t seem to apply to women either. I’m disappointed God is so homophobic that he forgot about lesbians, but I guess I would rather be forgotten than put to death. Wait. Would I?“
Emily Austin’s first novel is a rousing success. While it’s form and content are often choppy and flit from one moment to the next, they are exactly right for the personality of the main character. The story forces you to embody Gilda’s angst and anxiety in a way that, as an anxious person myself, is somehow charming rather than triggering. “Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead” is a perfect novel of the moment.
Thank you to Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, for providing an Advanced Readers Copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.