All’s Well … except the ending

“She attempts a face of what I presume to be her invisible suffering. Her brow furrows as though she’s about to take a difficult shit or else have a furious but forgettable orgasm.” So Miranda Fitch, the pain-ridden protagonist of ALL’S WELL by Mona Awad, describes one commercial for a supposed miracle pain-reliever. She is unconvinced.

Miranda was a stage actor until a fall inflicted her with crippling injuries and chronic pain that nobody has been able to treat. Now she works as a drama teacher, currently staging Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. It’s not an A-list play and the students, and the parents, and the administration, would rather she put on one of the Great Plays, like say Macbeth. Miranda’s pushing back but losing; she’s also disgruntled that the department’s star player, Briana, has the leading role when she’s not the best for it. Everything’s wrong, Miranda’s given up on life and even her friends are growing tired of it.

Then Miranda meets three strange men (linked throughout the book with Macbeth‘s witches) who make cryptic promises of help. When she touches Briana during a rehearsal, Briana comes down with Miranda’s ill health and Miranda starts to heal. The rest of her pain goes into her physical therapist, whom it’s implied is a hack: he doesn’t listen to patients and is happy to earn his pay keeping them in recovery forever. With her renewed energy and some help from the three men she switches from Macbeth to All’s Well, gets a love life — nothing can go wrong now, right? But of course, there’s a price to pay for miracles …

The first part of the book is strictly real-world in its handling of Miranda and her problem but it kept me reading because the flyleaf description implied fantasy would be coming, and because Awad’s writing style is excellent. That said, it feels uncomfortably heavy on disability cliches such as the magical cure and the possibility her pain is all imaginary; if I had any experience with this kind of disability would I have liked the book as much?

The fantasy elements work fine at first but around two-thirds of the way into the book they fell apart. The story becomes surreal, slipping in and out of dreams and normal consciousness — or so it seems — and I’m not sure what was real or what wasn’t. When the three men and a number of other spirits show up to watch the performance it’s clear they’re there for payback but it’s unclear what. Or why Miranda sees her current lover transforming into her ex-husband.

It feels like part of the bargain is that Miranda cross further into evil but maybe not. Absolutely nothing is clear, and as Brandon Sanderson says, when the ending revolves around magic, the author has to make it clear how it works. Awad doesn’t.

I still enjoyed the first two-thirds though.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jonathan Bush.

Leave a comment

Filed under Is Our Writers Learning?, Reading

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.