Everything Is Just Fine
- By Brett Paesel
- Grand Central Publishing
- 432 pp.
- Reviewed by Heidi Mastrogiovanni
- May 24, 2020
A postmodern, epistolary take on the imploding centers of American communities.
Subject: Omigod, I just read a WONDERFUL book!
I miss you! I can’t believe you fell in love in Paris and moved there! I HATE that you don’t live here anymore! BFFs are supposed to live in the same city!
I have to tell you about this delightful book I just read. I’m recommending it to literally EVERYONE. It’s called Everything Is Just Fine, and it’s by Brett Paesel. She’s a writer and consulting producer and actor, and I bet she’s hilarious in person, because her book is a hoot.
I swear, she hooks you right from the first moment, when she starts the story with hints of past tragedy and with the promise of a decisive act. Yeah, good luck trying not to immediately turn the page after reading that.
A LOT of this story is told in the form of emails, and there are some letters to characters which are included, and also texts. It used to be diary entries, like, with Bridget Jones, right? Now it’s emails ’n stuff. Wonder how novels will be structured in the future. Telepathy?
So, this book is about a boys’ soccer team in Beverly Hills. Coach Randy is more or less the protagonist, but there are a lot of characters to care about. The parents are all kinda nuts. One of them has a GSachs email address, so you pretty much want to hate him right away.
Coach Randy uses a lot of exclamation points in his emails. A LOT! And he also loves to share inspirational quotations from movies and songs. A lot of the characters write something passive-aggressive or outright nasty in an email, and then the next thing they write is “Just kidding!” and, of course, you know they’re not.
I swear, it’s all so involving and infectious, I’ve found myself lapsing into their writing style, which my editor will NOT be happy about!!!
But not to worry about the email thing getting to be annoying. Yes, you can hear these characters’ voices to such an extent that sometimes you just want them to shut up already, but that’s when Paesel switches to narration. Honestly, it works wonderfully. I’ve been missing all those screwed-up parents and their screwed-up kids since I finished the book.
Maybe not the guy from Goldman Sachs.
Coach Randy’s marriage is a mess. His job is a mess. He doesn’t get along with his son. Parents are having affairs and are in massive denial about their children’s problems. Characters are glib and unkind. And then they’re kind and caring, and I would love a sequel to this book so I can spend more time with them.
There are group emails, there are personal emails between divorced parents, and there are emails that are only thinly disguised wails of anguish, plus emails that are written by drunken characters, and you want to scream at them not to hit “send,” all of which adds to the joy and tension of feeling as though you’re eavesdropping as you’re reading.
This book is quite a bit like an addictive nighttime soap (remember those?); it is just as impossible to stop watching/put down. And there’s a reason those things were so popular, because, on some level, they deliver just about everything an audience wants, no?
Paesel introduces so many of her characters via email, and then the text of the emails works with the text of the narration to help readers get to know the characters better. The irresistible question of “What’s going to happen next?” is on just about every page. There are unexpected layers to these folks, and we witness them changing in what feels like real time.
What is especially remarkable in Paesel’s writing is that, even with so many parents and kids in her story, she honors everyone’s point of view. A harsh and cruel mother is revealed to be that way because of a devastating loss in her past. Another mother who comes across as supremely prim and silly in her emails is shown to be anything but.
In the second half of the book, the emails are fewer and farther between as the situations become more earnest. And even when they return, reading them feels different. It’s almost as though it’s the characters’ subtext, not the words, speaking.
Honestly, it’s such a heartfelt tale, focusing on any quibbles feels mean-spirited. Yes, there are clichés, including a husband-stealing nanny, but I care about the character whose spouse the nanny stole. So what if it’s a cliché?
Plus, that particular character curses more creatively than I do, so I have to love her. In one laugh-out-loud email exchange with her bastard of an ex-husband, she refers to him as a “testical [sic] licking lizard from inside the crack of someone else’s ass” and a “scrotum sucking flea who hangs off of a pig’s ballsack.”
Thank you, Brett Paesel. I will be filing both of those lush locutions for future use!
Okay, so, basically, just BUY THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOU WILL LOVE IT! And then tell your gorgeous new French husband that he’s a scrotum-sucking flea for stealing you away from all of us!
[Editor's note: This review originally ran in 2019.]
Heidi Mastrogiovanni is author of the comedic novel Lala Pettibone’s Act Two (finalist for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards) and the sequel, Lala Pettibone: Standing Room Only (Amberjack Publishing). A dedicated animal-welfare advocate, Heidi lives in Los Angeles with her musician husband and their rescued senior dogs.