WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY FINE – Book Review
Meta horror has been around in its current incarnation since at least the thirties and arguably longer than that. But it has had something of a resurgence in the last decade, becoming such a dominant flavor that a movie like Occulus can earn major points from me simply by virtue of being a ghost story rather than a story about how this is totally like a ghost story man. Merely pointing out that the horror genre has conventions is no longer sufficient juice to get me through a story. One must have something actually clever and interesting to say about those conventions.
While it might not break any new meta horror ground We Are All Completely Fine actually does a pretty good job of playing the notes of the genre with some entertaining variations. We Are All Completely Fine may not have the thematic depth, unpredictable plotting and acidic humor of say David Wong’s work, but it gets beyond step one of acknowledging that horror is a thing that exists, where far too much meta horror stops, to the business of telling a compelling story. We Are All Completely Fine follows the formation of a support group for horror story survivors. There’s the Final Girl, a survivor of a coven’s sinister designs, a man who’s having some trouble adjusting to normal life after an encounter with Lovecraftian beings, a survivor of a 70’s cannibal picture and someone who encounters some J-Horror like ghosts in the machine.
The idea that someone who survives a horror film would pretty much be fucked up for life (Call it Marylin Burns syndrome) is a clever conceit. What serves as both We Are All Completely Fine’s saving grace and builds in some inherent limitations, is that Gregory doesn’t use the concept to show off how clever he is, how many movies and novels he can reference, or even really as a thematic engine; but instead seems treats the concept as a narrative engine first and foremost. It proves a sturdy one, letting Gregory unveil the plot at his own pace, dishing out crucial information a little at a time for maximum effect and allowing for foreshadowing without it feeling contrived. His characters are well drawn and authentically damaged and there are moments here that are both funny and genuinely creepy.
What keeps We Are All Completely Fine from being completely satisfying is an ending that doesn’t so much leave itself open for a sequel as it does nudge you in the ribs murmuring, “Eh bet you’re wondering what happens next eh?” This would be a little less galling if We Are All Completely Fine wasn’t a novella with plenty of room to expand (by my account three of the five stories from the group are left with plenty of meat on the bones…no pun intended). There are certain limitations both narratively and thematically to the approach that Gregory takes. I’m at a bit of a loss, in other words.
I’ve said it before and will say it again, “I wanted more,” is hardly the worst thing you can say about a book. We Are All Completely Fine is undoubtedly well written and entertaining but it’s hard to get too excited about a story when you feel as if you’ve essentially been sold a prologue.