Miranda Fitch, the main character and narrator of Mona Awad’s All’s Well ended her career as a stage actress after a fall from the stage during a production of Macbeth left her with debilitating and chronic pain. However, she is, just barely, able to manage a job directing Shakespeare for a college theatre department. She’s preparing to relive her own glory days by putting on a production of All’s Well That Ends Well, but the students are resisting taking on this problem play that no one will want to see. And Miranda doesn’t have a lot of fight in her when the department insists that she switch to Macbeth.
But then a lot of strange things start happening, much of it centered on three strange men who know a lot about Miranda’s plight. Things soon begin to fall into place. A trio of donors insist that the school put on All’s Well, Miranda’s health begins to improve, and the student Miranda felt obligated to cast as Helen falls ill, potentially enabling Miranda to offer the role to a student she considers more talented. (Whether the student is more talented is unclear, given comments made by some of Miranda’s colleagues.)
Gradually, Miranda comes to realize that her good health may be coming at the expense of others. But it feels so good, so freeing, to no longer be in pain! It’s easy for her to set misgivings aside and press ahead, as so many of Shakespeare’s characters do. I liked this aspect of the book a lot. Even though I could see (in a general sense) what was going on right away, I could totally understand why Miranda chose to deny it. I also liked the ambiguity around why this is happening. There are a couple of possible sources of Miranda’s magical turnaround, and the book isn’t interested in providing a clear answer.
I think, however, that the book gets too complicated by the end, as Miranda loses her grip on reality entirely. There are too many relationships introduced and too many magical elements and it starts to feel like it’s just getting weird for the sake of weirdness. Miranda’s imaginings seem overstuffed, and I think the relationships within the book suffer. It’s not bad. I could have just done with a little bit less.