Review: We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: August 17 to 18, 2014
Read Count: 2
Recommended by:
Recommended for: fans of subtle horror

So very good. If you’re curious about Daryl Gregory but don’t know where to start, consider this novella. It’s short enough to not waste your time and long enough to give you a good sense of his writing.

This story is much more than the sum of its parts, and its genius lies in the subtle writing and unassuming storytelling style, and it’s one of those stories you should go into knowing as little about it as possible, so as to experience it fully it as it unfolds.

Daryl Gregory would like you to imagine a world very much like our own with one significant difference: supernatural monsters are real and they manifest as symptoms of psychological disorders. Only a select few can see these monsters or know of their existence, and these people are usually victims of uniquely disturbing traumas. Dr. Jan Sayer, a psychiatrist and believer, pulls together 5 individuals with similar experiences for a therapy group hoping that by sharing their stories they can alleviate some of their pain and perhaps make peace with their traumas together. It starts as a series of therapy sessions and then unfolds as a series of events that test the merit and mettle of each character, even the good doctor herself.

We’re different from other people, she’d said. We only feel at home when we’re a little bit afraid.

This is easily one of the best character-driven stories I’ve read in awhile, and the writing is as close to perfect as a mix-genre novella can get.

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Review: Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: May 04 to 26, 2013
Read count: 2

5 stars upon finishing, but now that I think about it, it’s more like 4 or 4 ½, depending on my current mood of interpretation.

John “Stony” Mayhall is a living dead miracle who defy all odds, logic, laws of physics, our understanding of anatomy and physiology, our sense of “living” and “death,” etc. He lives despite not having that spark of life, he grows despite not having proper bodily functions, and he ages despite time not being a factor that should affect him. And he thinks, not only intelligently, but deeply and ponders questions like, “What is that spark of life?” and “How am I moving and thinking but not really living?” Important questions (for both the living and living dead).

One cold blizzard evening, Wanda Mayhall and her daughters come upon Stony and his birth mother by the side of the road, almost frozen and certainly looking dead. Stony’s mother doesn’t make it, but miraculously he does. The Mayhalls bundle him up and bring him back to their farm and then realize what he is, a zombie baby. He seems almost like any average human newborn, except for his gray skin and inability to eat or sleep. Wanda decides to keep and raise the baby on the farm, instead of informing the authorities.

Stony grows despite all the things mentioned in the above paragraph and learns to live as human. However, there’s always something missing or feels not quite right in his life and he doesn’t realize what it is until he meets other living dead and live among them. Then to his disappointment, he finds out he’s not quite like other zombies either because he was raised by a human family, which brings up that age-old question of nature vs. nurture.

This is mostly a story of a boy coming of age in the late 60s/70s in a time of intense persecution. It’s alternate, yet family history. The War in Vietnam never happens and the Cold War never happens either. Instead the US government is fighting a silent war against an unstoppable viral outbreak that, if spread again, can spread at an alarming rate. The world Stony lives in is a world that traps itself in a police state for fear of another outbreak, and while people comply with zero-zombie-tolerance laws and regulations, there are some who help the living dead as part of a network that runs all across the country.

The zombie virus causes the infected to die a physical death while exhibiting all the classic zombie traits, like a bout of fever, mindlessness, a hunger for human flesh, and a gray skin tone. The infection is passed on through saliva entering the bloodstream. After 48 hours, the infected regain control of themselves and a majority resume whatever state of mind they were in before the infection, though there are a few who never recover. The living dead can die and be killed, but they don’t feel pain or heal themselves. Though no exception to the limitations of zombies, Stony is a special case because he grows and achieves a level of body awareness that’s never been seen before. He comes to understand why “the stick” moves and what actually makes it move.

It’s fun to see Gregory’s interpretation of classic zombie lore and how he develops them further. I’ve always had an appreciation for sci-fi / fantasy writers who can incorporate real-world science into their imaginary worlds. Gregory does it in a believable way. I hope this is where the zombie genre is heading–less mindlessness and flesh-eating; more focus on thoughtfulness, the science of viruses & outbreaks, and zombie physiology.

What keeps this story from a 5-star rating is the unusually huge jumps in time. There are a couple that jump over a decade or so, and that’s just too much time lost (from a reader’s perspective). Other than this one minor thing, I really like the direction in which Gregory takes his zombie story, and I hope he’s planning to write more.

Original review can be found here.