Book Review

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

Through a Filter of Dark Humor, Emily Austin Delves Into the Depths of an Anxious Mind in ‘Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead’

Maria Chance
Jul 10th, 2022 2:58 am

In Emily Austin’s Everyone in This Room Will Someday be Dead, Gilda thinks about death. Every. Single. Instant. Of. Every. Single. Day. And it’s starting to wear on her.

Whether she’s at the store, at home, watching a movie with her girlfriend, or celebrating a friend’s birthday, thoughts about death and the meaning of existence plague her compulsively. Emily doesn’t have much of an outlet for these thoughts: her family prefers to sweep personal issues under the rug; her brother is struggling with an addiction to alcohol; psychiatrists are always supposed to do an assessment and get back to her but never do; she doesn’t have many friends because people her age have often found her “weird,” and when her girlfriend, Eleanor, prompts her to open up, Emily changes the conversation to avoid having to voice the dark thoughts that invade her mind. Her mental struggles, however, are starting to show up in other areas of her life. She can’t concentrate at work so she gets fired. Her apartment is quickly becoming an asylum for dirty dishes. She visits the emergency room so often with hypochondriac ailments that the staff knows her by name.

Gilda shows up at a Catholic church, after finding a flier advertising-free therapy, deciding it can’t make things worse. However, the priest mistakes her for someone applying for the job of secretary left open by the sudden passing of the previous secretary, Grace. Rather than correct him, Gilda, in need of a job, seizes the opportunity of once again having an income.

Her depression and obsessive thoughts escalate as Gilda struggles with hiding the truth of who she is – an atheist lesbian who’d probably be thrown out if anyone at the church found out. Her parents are the epitome of unsupportive and her girlfriend is quickly losing interest. The new rumors that her predecessor died by murder only add to her list of hyperfixations, her anxiety driving her to do her own investigations. The theme of death seemingly follows her everywhere – funerals held at the church, a fire at her neighbor’s house, a cat that’s gone missing and may not survive on its own – increasing her paranoia to the point of blackouts and lapses in her memory which seem incriminating to the authorities investigating Grace’s death.

Through this darkly humored narrative, Austin weaves intricate messages about the many ways in which mental illness can present itself and the difference it can make when having the support and help one needs. The narrative doesn’t lie when it presents the truth that everyone and everything everywhere will someday be dead, but it fights, alongside our protagonist, Gilda, for the belief that it doesn’t have to be a bleak, hopeless existence until it does.

Austin cleverly documents Gilda’s obsessive thoughts, in real-time. We see her triggers, her growing panic, and her hopelessness. Austin does a fantastic job of depicting the consuming world of anxiety and depression, the way it wraps its tentacles around its victims in an attempt to suffocate them.

Though the narrative was much darker than I expected, it still maintains a thread of dark humor. Gilda is different and most people notice it. She struggles with caring about mundane, everyday things and is more preoccupied with the purpose of black holes. She can hardly muster up thoughts on appearances when prompted because “we’re all just skeletons covered with skin.” Gilda’s outside-of-the-box POV gives the narrative an air of quirkiness that helps set the book aside from most books involving themes of mental health.

This office reminds me of my bedroom when I was nine and obsessed with sea turles, except Jeff is obsessed with crucifixes. I had a turtle bedset, turtle posters, and turtle stuffed animals. Jeff has a mixed-media gallery wall behind his desk with a wooden cross, a gold cross, a ceramic cross, and a framed photo of crosses. There is a cross-shaped candy dish in front of me that contains dusty Whether’s Originals, and a dirty coffee mug with a renaissanse painting on it of Jesus holding—you guessed it—a cross. […] I start to picture a world where Jesus had been killed using a different murder device. I picture little ceramic guillotine figurines. I imagine miniature nooses hung above children’s beds. Electric chair necklaces and earrings.

— excerpt from Emily Austin’s Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

Austin’s depiction of Gilda’s anxiety, depression, and her inevitable downward spiral is, at every moment, absorbing in its reality. Few authors can do such a fantastic job of grasping the nuances of what mental illness actually feels like. The novel becomes a reflection for some of us as we recognize so much of our own struggles through Gilda’s narrative.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is an intriguing, unconventional read that moves quickly despite its somber themes. However, do not be fooled by its title – at every moment this is a story of hope, as it unfolds and reveals the strange places in which we are still able to find something to make our time in this strange and elusive cosmic arrangement worthwhile.

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About the reviewer

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Maria Chance
  • Freelance Developmental Editor
  • Book Reviewer & Editor

A self-proclaimed hermit and potential cat hoarder, Maria lives in Virginia where she writes, proofreads and copy edits as a freelancer. Her longstanding love affair with books began when her mother would fall asleep reading bedtime stories to her. (Don't worry; she was sure to wake her up so she could finish.) Now, as an adult, Maria struggles with a reading vice that has often threatened the hygiene of her home. On the few occasions that her nose isn't buried in a book, she enjoys exploring new cities, having margaritas with her sister, and curling up with a book--wait, what?