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This reading group guide for Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead
includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Emily Austin.
The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
In this darkly funny and utterly profound debut, Gilda, a twentysomething atheist lesbian, cannot stop ruminating about death. She accidentally stumbles into a job as a receptionist for a Catholic church, and in between trying to memorize the lines to mass, hiding the fact that she has a girlfriend, and watching the dirty-dish tower in her apartment grow ever higher, Gilda becomes obsessed with her work predecessor’s mysterious death. Full of delightfully awkward predicaments and pitch-perfect observations about the human condition, this novel is for anyone who searches for meaning in a chaotic world where they feel like an outsider, watching the daily rituals of life unfold as if through binoculars.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Gilda takes a job at a Catholic church despite being a lesbian atheist, which seems distinctly antithetical, and part of the fun is watching this situation unfold. Do you think Gilda’s attempts to hide who she is at work have a detrimental effect on her? Or is Gilda used to hiding things about herself?
2. Gilda’s parents both seem to be unable to face difficult realities. How do you think her parent’s—and, in particular, her dad’s—reactions to her behavior as a child affected her as she grew up? How do you think they affect both Gilda and Eli now that they’re adults?
3. Do you think it surprises Gilda when she hears Jeff crying after the death of a teenager from the congregation? How does witnessing someone else’s grief affect Gilda, who is constantly anxious about peoples’ deaths?
4. In what ways does working in the church subvert Gilda’s (and perhaps our own) expectations of what the experience will be like for her?
5. What do Gilda’s experiences with the health care system reveal to us about how acute anxiety is managed (or mismanaged) by health care professionals? How could her visits have been handled differently?
6. Gilda believes that Eleanor is trying to steal her identity when they first start messaging on a dating app. Does this allow Gilda to act differently—and more candidly—with Eleanor than with her previous matches? Why do you think this is the case?
7. Gilda’s anxieties throughout the novel can often be debilitating. They leave her unable to do dishes or shower, they cause her to obsess over things she can’t control (like the missing cat), and they often cause her to break into tears or have panic attacks at inconvenient times. What is it like for the reader to experience life through Gilda’s eyes? How did that affect you? Was it eye-opening or deeply familiar for you? Do you share her fears and, if so, to what extent?
8. As we see, Gilda often says yes to offers—the job at the church, the date with Giuseppe, etc.—when they are presented to her. Why do you think she does this?
9. How does Gilda’s worldview contrast with Giuseppe’s opinion that you can do anything you’d like in life as long as you believe that you can?
10. Gilda often hides what she’s thinking, like just how much she’s preoccupied with death, etc. How do these small omissions snowball into bigger ones? At what point does personal information about your own anxieties become necessary to share so that you can live as authentically as possible?
11. Gilda’s focus on death and the chaotic realities of existence can make societal conventions (such as what’s considered a sin) seem small in comparison. How does this contrast of existential dread shine a light on the rules and conventions that so many of us abide by? In your opinion, does it make them seem more trivial and nonsensical? Or does the acknowledgement of death help give meaning to existence?
12. In some ways, Gilda is very preoccupied with existence and the meaninglessness of our temporary lives, and in other ways, she cares deeply the details that shape the lives of humans and animals. How do these seemingly opposite notions seem to coexist or push against each other in her mind?
13. Barney tells Gilda that the characteristics of psychopaths are having been bullied as a child, committing petty crimes, and being chronically unemployed, which we know are all criteria that fit Gilda. What do you think it means to her to hear that she fits the profile? Do you think we paint with too broad a brush when we talk about people with mental illnesses?
14. Why do you think Gilda is fixated on hands—her own and other people’s? Why does she think so much about how they are the same hands throughout people’s whole lives?Enhance Your Book Club
1. This book has been compared to the show Fleabag
. Watch both seasons of Fleabag
(or choose select episodes) and discuss how the portrayals of the two young women—Gilda and Fleabag—are both similar to and different from one another.
2. In the latter half of the novel, both Barney and Gilda try to solve Grace’s apparent murder. Do the members of your book club have a fascination with true crime? If so, discuss what documentaries/docuseries, books, or podcasts you’ve seen/read/listened to. Have you ever played an amateur sleuth, whether in your own life or in trying to solve more famous crimes?
3. If this book were made into a film, TV series, or play, who would your dream cast for the characters in the book be?A Conversation with Emily Austin
Q: This book is so beautifully written that we feel like we’re experiencing Gilda’s reality while we read it. If you don’t mind sharing, how much of this perspective (anxieties, existential dread, thinking about death, and caring deeply about others’ happiness) do you share with our main character versus how much of it did you draw from your imagination or research?
A: Thank you! I do have an anxiety disorder and struggles with depression, and there are some thoughts represented in this book that belong to both Gilda and me. There are also areas where we differ, though. I have close friends and family who I also drew from. One of my sisters used to wake my mom up to cry about how she would die one day, for example.
Q: In that same vein, what other portrayals of anxiety and depression did you pull from—in books, movies, tv shows, etc.—in order to create Gilda’s character?
A: I went to therapy while writing this book and was given some material from my psychologist about anxiety and how it manifests. Gilda not feeling the pain in her broken arm was a symptom I remember reading in that material. I also listened to a lot of music by Phoebe Bridgers and Muna while writing this. I think I drew from that sometimes too.
Q: Pets like the cat and rabbit come up multiple times throughout the book. Why did you choose to weave the story of the rabbit throughout Gilda’s present story line?
A: A pet dying is often the first experience a person has with death, and it made sense to me that Gilda would struggle to ever get over that first experience.
Q: A large part of the book takes place at Gilda’s job at a Catholic church. Why did you choose that as the setting for much of the story? How do you think the backdrop of organized religion and a church community informs us about Gilda’s journey?
A: I grew up Catholic, and I think thematically Catholicism is aligned with a person who is morbidly anxious; a lot of Catholic language and imagery is about death, bodies, and blood. I also think, for some people, religion can help soothe morbid anxieties. If you are fixated on death or on the purpose of your life, there is some relief offered to you by the Catholic Church and by most religions. When you are queer though, what is offered is usually less comforting. Queer people can be Catholic, but regardless of your faith or beliefs, I think it is fair to say that if you are driven to Catholicism to soothe your morbid anxieties, a straight person is more likely to feel comforted than a queer person is.
Q: Gilda’s fascination with death—both her preoccupation with how everyone will someday be dead (hence the title) and her fear that it could come for anyone at any moment—is so prominent throughout the book. Why did you choose to have her focus on this?
A: I think most anxiety and depression boils down to recognizing our own mortality, and the fact that everyone we know will someday die.
Q: Gilda is unsure of so many things, but she is so sure of her sexuality, even from a young age. What did it mean to you to portray her sexuality and her relationship throughout the novel?
A: Gilda being a lesbian is as much a fact to her as the fact that one day she will die is. I wrote her as unquestionably queer because her character serves in part to show what the experience of being depressed and queer is like. Queer people are more likely to suffer from depression, and to die by suicide. Being queer is not inherently depressing; however, it is tied to homophobia, which is why queer people suffer from depression and anxiety at higher rates. Because of that, I meant to portray Gilda’s relationship with Eleanor as one area of her life that makes her happy. It served to illustrate why it is so damaging to queer people to suggest their relationships are bad. This is why Gilda mentions that it’s ironic that Catholicism was theoretically created to help people feel safe and meaningful when it takes away one of the few things that makes her feel like her life is worth living at all.
Q: We have a very close point of view to Gilda throughout the story—we feel like we’re within her mind, listening to her thoughts. Did you ever consider telling the story from other perspectives? Why did you choose to remain within Gilda’s head for the whole novel? Why was it important for the story you told?
A: One reason I like reading is because it helps me develop empathy for others and learn from other people’s experiences. Another reason is because it helps me relate and feel seen. I think it would be difficult to understand what it feels like to be Gilda without being subjected to her thought patterns, and it would be hard to relate to her without knowing intimately what she is thinking. I do not think that I considered writing her from another perspective, and I think this story is best suited to this perspective, but it is interesting to consider how a different approach might have impacted the story.
Q: Why did you choose to have Gilda’s parents be particularly unresponsive to the pain of their children? What did you want to portray with this type of parent-child relationship?
A: This relationship served in part to represent mental health stigma, particularly in terms of how members of older generations sometimes approach mental health, and to illustrate the negative impacts of that.
Q: The passage that reads: “I find it so bizarre that I occupy space, and that I am seen by other people. I feel like I am falling through space and Eleanor just threw me a rose. It’s such a sweet, pointless gesture. It would be less devastating to fall through space alone, without someone else falling next to me. Whenever someone does something nice for me, I feel intensely aware of how strange and sad it is to know someone” (p. 135–136) is particularly beautiful and heartbreaking. How did you come upon this metaphor?
A: Thank you! I think when you are depressed, it is hard not to recognize the absurdity of life. It is difficult to understand the point of doing anything, and because of that, kind gestures can feel heartbreaking. This passage was meant to describe that sort of thinking: we are specks of dust in space being nice to each other, and it is very sweet and devastating.
Q: There are so many instances in the book where health care professionals, employers, the police, and even Gilda’s friends and family could have done so much more to help her instead of leaving her isolated. Near the end of the novel, she even considers suicide. What did you want to say about how mental illnesses are treated through this portrayal?
A: People who need mental health care often lack access to it. There is stigma, human resource shortages, fragmented service delivery models, and a lack of research capacity for implementation and policy change worldwide. There are also issues in the quality of the service provided. I have personally faced the impacts of this and have witnessed close friends also be negatively affected.
Q: Do you have a next project in mind? If so, can you share anything about it?
A: I am thinking of writing a book about someone who writes the beginnings of books, because I have a lot of half written stories, and that might a clever way of salvaging them.