The cover of Emily Austin’s debut novel presents visual insight into the book’s core dichotomy. In a design by Kelli McAdams, lollipop-colored rabbits bound with life in neatly spaced rows, but the interspersed title reminds us that everyone in this room will someday be dead. It’s a contradiction that portrays the book’s spirit. The plot races forward in quirky spurts, its suspense grounded in a murder mystery, and yet its introspection is light and funny, while also being obsessed with death.
Everyone in this Room Will Someday Be Dead opens with a car crash and then there’s a house fire, a missing cat, and, of course, the lead drama—a suspected murderer on the loose. Swirling inside this chaos is Gilda, our death-anxious, bumbling, atheist, lesbian heroine. Atypical of heroines, however, she does not pursue danger. She shrinks from it, dreading the possibility that she might cause harm or even discomfort to anyone else. She seeks out help, showing up to a Catholic church for free mental healthcare; however, the priest mistakes her for a job applicant to replace the recently deceased receptionist, Grace. Gilda is too kind and embarrassed to reject him, and besides, she needs the job, even if it exacerbates her imposter syndrome all the more.
From behind her desk, Gilda pretends to be devout, heterosexual, and even, at times, her late predecessor. But, she rationalizes, don’t we all employ masks? “What if,” she asks, “beneath every lawyer’s suit and every stay-at-home parent’s apron, everyone is just a baby who doesn’t know what they’re doing?”
Austin’s narrator is an over-thinker, stepping through existential crises. “I find it so bizarre,” she shares, “that I occupy space, and that I am seen by other people.” With every attempt Gilda makes to fit in, she loses herself in the work of it—memorizing mass, dating a Catholic bachelor, stalking her new colleagues, building a tower of dirty dishes in her kitchen, taking herself to the emergency room, fearing death will come with the pain in her chest. “I am okay,” she says, “in the loose sense of the word, meaning mostly: I can breathe. I am probably, however, not truly okay. Something is obviously wrong with me. I feel like I just escaped a bear attack. Why does my body react like it is being chased down by predators when it’s not?”
This is the true suspense of Austin’s plot—the internal chaos. Gilda’s obsessive thoughts are not sensationalized, but depicted with humanity. Her awareness of the true human condition is kind and genuine, because, yes, everyone in this room will someday be dead, and while that is sad, we still can wash dishes and write emails and apologize and love and do all that is beautifully human.
It is witnessing Gilda among the other characters of this novel that births this realization. They too hide their vulnerabilities, from the grieving priest sobbing in his office to the alcoholic brother hiding his own secrets to the dismissive parents avoiding the truth at all costs. They are the mystery Gilda unravels throughout her amatuer detective work, and yet even as she comes to see them, she fears what they might see in her.
Reading this novel, I found it refreshing how Austin doesn’t shy away from her narrator’s deeper, even bleaker thoughts, or the rambling that comes with figuring out life—no matter how strange or morbid or full of anxiety. Austin’s language is vibrant and provocative, confident and warm. Her work reminds us that life is good even when it races around us like those colorful rabbits on the cover. It reminds us that good isn’t perfect, but alive, despite the inevitability of death. The good for a rabbit is being a rabbit. Living each day doing those normal things that keep them moving forward along the page. Maybe then, the same is true of humans.
Overall, Austin’s debut made me laugh and goose-pimple and turn the page, captivated by the murder mystery, yes, but also by questions of our mortality and all we do to shield ourselves from it.
is a Canadian writer. She is represented by Heather Carr at The Friedrich Agency. Her debut novel, “Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead” is being published by Atria Books, Simon and Schuster Canada, and Atlantic Books. Her novella “Oh Honey” was published in 2017 by Holland House Books. With the support of the Canadian Council for the Arts, Emily is currently writing a collection of feminist, LGBTQIA+ poetry. You can find Emily on Instagram @EmilyRAustinAuthor or Twitter @eraustinauthor. You can also subscribe to her newsletter.
is a recent graduate of George Mason University’s creative writing MFA program, through which she won the Alan Cheuse International Writers travel grant, as well as the Shelley A. Marshall Fiction Award. She is currently working on a novel set in Switzerland, and a collection of short stories in which animals have developed the ability to communicate with humans. She teaches literature and writing courses, and has served as editor-in-chief of the literary journal phoebe. She lives in Virginia, in a work-in-progress farm house with her husband and pup.