Advertisement
Share

Author finds a sojourn in La Jolla exactly what she needed to finish her third novel

Author Mona Awad says her new novel, "All's Well," "just sort of unfolded" during her stay in La Jolla.
Author Mona Awad says her new novel, “All’s Well,” “just sort of unfolded” during her stay in La Jolla. “The natural beauty of the place definitely helped shape the book.”
(Brigitte Lacombe)

In ‘All’s Well,’ Mona Awad crafts a Shakespearean tragicomedy.

“There’s something about the sunniness of San Diego that always brings out the darkness in me, too.”

To hear Mona Awad tell it, a sojourn in La Jolla is exactly what she needed to finish her third novel, “All’s Well” (Simon & Schuster). The book, a darkly comic tale of a once-aspiring actor turned college theater director dealing with chronic pain, is set mainly in an unnamed town somewhere on the coast of New England.

While Awad admits that it seems “odd” that the story was written mostly on one coast but takes place on another, the majority of the book’s tone is San Diego, she said.

“The sunniness, the movement toward the sunshine, the sea and the troubling ecstasy, that’s all San Diego,” said Awad, who rented a seaside residence in La Jolla after taking a semester off from her teaching job at Syracuse University in New York.

“It was the most incredible creative experience I’ve ever had, really,” she said. “The book just sort of unfolded when I got there. I wrote it all there in the span of a month. The natural beauty of the place definitely helped shape the book. It makes me remember the book not just as a book but a place as well, because it was such a magical experience.”

Magic extends to the story that unfolds in “All’s Well.” The book’s protagonist, Miranda Fitch, is physically and mentally stifled after a series of unfortunate events. Her acting career is washed up, her divorce was unpleasant and, most pressingly, an onstage accident and botched surgery left her with chronic back pain and dependent on painkillers. Then, just as it seems as if she’s given up entirely and is on the verge of losing her teaching job, she is visited by three mysterious benefactors. Suddenly, things take a fantastic and fantastical turn for the better.

“The book starts ... in the winter in New England and Miranda’s in terrible pain on the floor,” said Awad, who often would walk alone along the La Jolla coast multiple times a day, listening to productions of “Macbeth,” for inspiration. “And then things begin to shift because it’s a comedy ultimately. So the trajectory shifts upward toward the spring, toward the sun, and her experience shifts with it.”

There are Shakespearean dualities throughout “All’s Well.” There’s the title of the book, a cheeky reference to both the play that Miranda is attempting to stage (“All’s Well That Ends Well”) and the state of her physical health. There’s also the fact that it has long been debated whether the titular Shakespeare play was a comedy or a tragedy. And just as with Shakespeare’s character of Helen, Miranda is a comically tragic character who can’t seem to catch a break.

“The onstage production in the book is obviously ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ because that’s the play, the life and the story that Miranda wants for herself,” said Awad, who incorporated some of her own experiences living with chronic pain for the character of Miranda. “But then there’s the play that she’s forced to live, the one she doesn’t want, which is ‘Macbeth.’”

“Part of the reason why I think ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ is so disturbing, strange and compelling is because Helen, the lead character, is so interesting,” Awad said. “She’s so witchy, clever and enterprising, and yet she’s fixated on this guy who doesn’t like her. She moves heaven and earth, she turns the world of the play upside down, just so she can get this man. There’s just something about that improbable, irrational attraction that was just so compelling to me.”

For Awad, that attraction to the improbable and irrational seems to have always been there. She grew up in Montreal and Mississauga, Canada (the latter of which Awad jokingly refers to as “misery saga” in her first novel, “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl”) and said that writing magical stories was her way of escaping.

“I was always a shy kid and didn’t always feel comfortable speaking, but I had a lot of feelings about things that I saw,” Awad recalled. “I was imaginative, but fearful of a lot of things, so my head would always be spinning these crazy stories. So writing became a place of freedom and agency, of power.”

While her mother loved a good thriller, Awad says she was always much more attracted to stories that incorporated magical realism into the plot. She published an essay in Vogue this year in which she recounted how films such as “The Wizard of Oz” helped her cope with a largely absent father.

“There’s something about playing with what’s possible,” said Awad, whose previous two novels also incorporated fantastical elements. “There’s something about introducing magic and the supernatural that, for me, when I’m recounting a story, makes it feel more psychologically and emotionally truthful.”