cover image All’s Well

All’s Well

Mona Awad. Simon & Schuster, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-982169-66-4

The pill-addled theater professor at the center of Awad’s scathing if underwhelming latest (after Bunny) is nearing the end of her rope. Miranda Fitch passes her days in a self-medicated haze, numbing the debilitating pain she’s felt since falling off the stage in a production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Worse still, no one seems to believe the severity of her condition. After the cast of her student production insists on putting on Macbeth rather than All’s Well, Miranda is approached at a bar by three mysterious men who give her the ability to transfer her pain to others. In the first instance, she wrests a script from a mutinous student, who then clutches her wrist in pain where Miranda touched her. Eventually, Miranda’s elation at escaping her pain gives way to a dangerously vindictive, manic spiral. Awad’s novel is, like Miranda says about Shakespeare’s All’s Well, “neither a tragedy nor a comedy, something in between.” Unfortunately, it falls short on both counts: Miranda’s acerbic inner monologue reaches for humor but mostly misses, and the overwrought tone undermines the story’s tragedy (when asked why she wanted to teach at the college: “I thought: Because my dreams have been killed. Because this is the beginning of my end”). It’s an ambitious effort, but not one that pays off. Agent: Bill Clegg, the Clegg Agency. (Aug.)