51V0BoyQk4LThe July 2014 publication We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory is one of the nominees in the Novella category for this year’s Shirley Jackson Awards nominations, and comes fairly well garlanded already with recommendations and plaudits. Are they justified? The answer is a polite "FUCK yeah!"

The plot briefly is that  Dr. Jan Sayer gathers together a therapy group of five – literally – scarred, maimed and traumatized survivors of very unique and untypical ordeals, from cannibal holocausts to quite unique child abuse, and finds weird and horrible revelations erupting in the collision between their fractured and antagonistic psyches. There’s a hint of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, and reality for all the protagonists is pretty unreliable and provisional. For one, for example, "therapy was about facing reality, and with the frames he saw more reality, and that was exactly what was driving him crazy." The author deftly reveals for us five very different and very disturbing scenarios, two of them at least sketched in only the most scarily suggestive outline, which all turn out in the end to be connected … ahem, under the skin. (Okay, last spoiler for now, I promise.)

The narrative alternates tone from darkly comic to just plain dark extremely well, and ramps up the gears as it goes on from sedentary stroll through the characters’ solitary gardens to full nitro-fueled denouement. Bear in mind, though, that this is definitely a novella. In the paperback version, it comes out at 192 pages, but I read it through in just over an hour. Because I couldn’t put it down. Readers are not going to feel short-changed. Thomas Ligotti remarked perceptively once on how apt the novella form is for film treatment, and this would make a particularly propulsive and gripping horror movie. And Daryl Gregory is an established enough author that some studio may have already optioned the film rights. I certainly hope so, because I can’t wait.

Does Daryl Gregory pull his punches very slightly and wind up the tale without exploiting the full potential of his material? Well, there’s the faintest hint of, as one of the characters says, "something big coming." That presumably is Harrison Squared, this March’s very-full-length sort-of-prequel from Tor Books, and definitely now one for my must-review list, which stars Harrison Harrison  the Monster Hunter, one of the chief characters from this book and the closest it comes to a hero. We Are All Completely Fine does work just fine as a standalone, though. Grab it. Just don’t be surprised if you need therapy afterwards.

TeleRead Rating: 4 e-readers out of 5

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Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer of dark fiction, and media pro with a love of e-reading. His gadgets range from a $50 Kindle Fire to his trusty Vodafone Smart Grand 6. Paul was educated at public school and Trinity College, Cambridge, but modern technology saved him from the Hugh Grant trap. His acclaimed first poetry collection, The Golden Age, was published in 1997, and reissued on Kindle in 2013, and his second poetry collection, The Musical Box of Wonders, was published in 2011.


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