It is called gastrointestinal stasis, and it is a common cause of death amongst rabbits.
To the untrained and inexperienced eye — for example, to children, who take on these complex creatures as pets, with no money of their own to provide the best quality of life — the rabbit, as it is phrased in the classic book Watership Down, just stops running. Suddenly. Frozen, with eyes open.
Her name was Pumpkin, and she was a very good rabbit. I picked her because she was soft and reddish-brown, and because her lop-ears had yet to lop. She was smart and gentle and friendly, and I loved her. She stopped running and was dead before I woke. To me, eleven years old and weeping, there didn’t seem to be a cause.
Pets are, if we are lucky, our first introduction to death. They are never our last.
Gilda — a nearly-thirty, atheist lesbian — has death anxiety. It probably started with the sudden death of her childhood pet rabbit, Flop. It doesn’t help that she has major depression, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. Or that her parents are ignoring her brother’s spiraling alcoholism, or that she has recently been fired. It also doesn’t help that, in an effort to find affordable mental health counseling, she finds herself accidentally interviewed and hired for a job as a secretary — in a Catholic church. It also doesn’t help that reason for the job opening was because Grace, a sweet and well-loved woman well into her 80s, died. Or that dear sweet Grace may have been murdered. Or that Gilda, in a comedy of errors, assumes Grace’s identity through emails to Grace’s old friend Rosemary — who doesn’t know that Grace is dead.
Everyone in this Room will Someday be Dead is a poignant study of what it means to be a functioning adult, the ennui of the end of young adulthood, and the wrenching agony of growth. Austin’s writing is sharp, concise, and emotional; although at times, Gilda as a character and narrator frustrated me. It is sometimes difficult to be at a further stage of healing and growth than a character, maybe because I cannot offer them any advice or reassurance; or, maybe, because Gilda’s story hits a little too close to home. At times, I was reminded of Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This. Both books offer the same blunt and cathartic exploration of mental health, death, and the grief that comes from both (the grief from loss of the self, of relationships, of experiences).
Going into the book, I sort of expected a dark comedy or a mystery story (I have been very interested in mysteries lately). Everyone in this Room was neither. True, there were bright and shining moments of comedy that pierced the dark morbidity of Gilda’s story, such as when, food rotten in her fridge at home, she steals a bag of crackers from the church — and finds out she has stolen and eaten a bag of communion wafers (49-50). The main plot in the book is ripe for comedy, and Austin plays with that without trivializing or overshadowing the novel’s very serious tone and subject matter. These (brief) moments of levity stand to make the unflinching look at all of our mortality that much more impactful. There is an old adage, “make them laugh before you make them cry” — Austin succeeds in this, whole-heartedly and unabashed. I cried more than I laughed, yes, but I did laugh. It was a catharsis.
I think that I will leave you with Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes.” May we all accept the inevitable with grace, and grow kinder for it.
Austin, Emily R. Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead. Atria Books, 2021.