We Are All Fine Here

Hey, there, MotherTalkers! Welcome to one of today's stops on the blog book tour for Mary Guterson's We Are All Fine Here.


I love a writer who’s got snark on tap. Mary Guterson, therefore, is an object of my unrequited affection. Her book We Are All Fine Here reined me in with its short sharp one-paragraph summary of all parenting books everywhere. I was further seduced by main character Julia's sly running commentary on all the not-exactly-winners in her life. But then the snarkery came interspersed with insights so apt and true they had me yelling at the book in public. This was not a dull read.

The gist of the book is as such: Julia lives an undistinguished life in the undistinguished suburbs. Her day-to-day doings have become almost tangential to those of her teenaged son and husband. Her job is dull despite convivial coworkers. The only part of her life that hasn't dwindled to habitual passivity is sporadic contact--sometimes full-body--with Ray, the charming but flaky college boyfriend she can't bring herself to cut completely out of her life. When her latest Ray encounter is followed by an unplanned pregnancy, and she doesn't know if the baby is his or her husband's, Julia realizes she is going to have to make some sort of life-changing decision. Though she may not make it right this minute.

No doubt this sounds like a delicious read to many of you. But to me, it sounds like Purgatory. I live the dull suburban parenting grind, and, while I am not unhappy, I also have no patience with novels about trying periods in an unremarkable middle-class suburban woman's life. Reading is my escape pod, and if it doesn't transport me to an alien realm--be it outer space, alternative Renaissance Europe, or post-Revolution Iran--then I'm usually not interested.

Good thing, then, that We Are All Fine Here supports one of my stock book discussion mini-rants: subject doesn't matter if the writing is good. And Ms. Guterson is a talented writer, with a knack for the sort of clear, fluid prose and dialogue that makes the page between reader and story almost transparent. She had me snickering and sniffling despite my skepticism. (She also snuck in enough Star Trek references to prevent a boycott by my inner geek.)

Still, I do have a complaint about We Are All Fine Here, and--lest Ms. Guterson feel unfairly maligned--it is the same complaint I make about many modern American novels: Ms. Guterson's characters seem to have been drained dry. There is little joy or vivacity in this book, and those, to me, are major flaws. Sarcasm, tragedy, and epiphanies are not enough to carry a novel--I require broader representation from the more lively side of the experiential spectrum. I am not saying novelists should be force-fed Sullivan's Travels, but rather that my life is often boring and sometimes depressing and I do not want to read about other bored, depressed people! I get that at home, for free!

I suspected that the author's real voice was more alive. I could occasionally see it poking through the prose, in passages such as, "Here I've let Ray into my vagina without so much as a backward glance, and yet I'm in a sweat over letting him into my living room." My suspicion was confirmed by visiting Ms. Guterson's delightfully neurotic blog. This disconnect between her writing styles makes me wonder if she or an overzealous editor tamped down that considerable, gleeful, nervous energy, to fashion a book that fits neatly on the shelf beside such big hit dirge-a-thons as I Know This Much Is True or The Hours.

(Admittedly, I am biased. When I read about day-to-day living, I do so via the wonderfully unrestrained and immediate world of blogs. The sites I visit regularly are select, because I only make time for people who write like Janis Joplin sang: passionately, and damn well.)

Complaints aside, I have nothing but praise for the last section of the book. (And if you avoid spoilers then please jump to the last paragraph.) After weeks of indecision and paralysis, and just as Julia starts to become excited about her second turn at motherhood, she loses her baby. She loses her baby. Her world is shocked into a different orbit, and, as anyone who has ever lost a pregnancy knows, it never really goes back.

This section was written so well and so truthfully that I wanted to reach out and give Julia the support I would have given a real-life friend. When she remarked, "Afterwards, the world is suddenly full of pregnant women," I wrote in the margins, "Yes, Sweetie, it is." I am grateful to Ms. Guterson for writing about this painful and far from uncommon experience with such bravery and grace.

We Are All Fine Here is top-shelf writing by a gifted author. Reader, if you are not as grumpy as me, you will enjoy it immensely.


Buy the Book, Already!

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