Skip to main content

Everything Is Fine: A Memoir

Review

Everything Is Fine: A Memoir

In stunningly raw and vivid prose, Vince Granata examines the tragedy that ripped his family apart in his ironically titled memoir, EVERYTHING IS FINE. Writing about mental illness, grief and the systems that prevent real care for those who suffer, Granata covers the full spectrum of human emotion --- from anger to shame, forgiveness to hope, and everything in between.

Granata was four years old the day his mother and father came home with his three new siblings: Christopher, Timothy and Elizabeth. In an instant his family doubled in size, and he proudly and exuberantly took on the role of older brother. Twenty-three years later, Tim would violently kill their mother, the penultimate moment of his increasingly erratic and disturbing battle with schizophrenia, forever changing the fabric of the Granata family’s lives and forcing each of them to confront Tim’s mental illness. In the aftermath, Granata pieces together his family’s history from the day the triplets came home to the day his mother died on their family room floor, asking how such a joy-filled event --- the miraculous birth of three desperately wanted children --- could start the countdown to murder.

Granata is an expert curator of memories. Despite the horror that we know is coming for his family, he is able to relay warm, happy memories from his youth to introduce readers to Tim. With humor and heart, he talks about the way his father sheathed the family furniture in pink foam board when the triplets started to walk; the way his mother walked them around on a leash (their “tails”) so that they could experience the world together; and even the fights in which he and his siblings displayed their childhood might, protected by bouncy foam weapons. It is clear from the start that Granata always took his role as a big brother seriously. How could he not, with so many young charges looking up to him and following his lead? Even as a child, Granata often found himself aligned with his parents, while the triplets formed alliances among themselves, with Chris and Tim becoming the closest of brothers and best friends.

The Granatas, an upper middle-class family, had disposable income, access to good health care, food on the table, and plenty of extracurriculars to keep the children busy and well-rounded. So how could Tim’s mental illness have snuck its way into their lives?

"Haunting, poignant and eye-opening, EVERYTHING IS FINE is a testament not only to a brother’s love, but to a family’s ability to heal. Granata is a cadenced, courageous writer you won’t soon forget."

As Granata tells it, Tim’s shift started in high school, an almost impossible time to make any real evaluations of a person’s mental health or grip on reality. Tim, a brick house of a boy, went from playing football to lifting weights to dominating his school’s wrestling team, a feat that earned him the respect of his peers, who adored him as a gentle giant. He spoke in funny accents in class, carried his injured brother off a football field and performed in jazz ensembles. But all the while, “Tim was accelerating. Somehow it started, on an atomic level, a single cell, something misfiring, an electron hitting the wrong synapse, a chemical imbalance slowly putrefying his brain.”

This fracturing of his psyche continued in college, first diagnosed as “severe depression” and later as psychosis NOS, “not otherwise specified.” Writing with the grit of a journalist, Granata quickly breaks down the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the bible of psychology) definition of schizophrenia and psychosis, and how people suffering from single psychotic episodes and others descending rapidly into madness are grouped under the same umbrella, often in ways that put them in danger.

As Tim’s mental illness continues to take hold, first in suicidal ideation and later in an obsession with good and evil and the depravity that divides them, Granata highlights how his schizophrenia starts to work on separating him from the world. First, his illness adopts a malleable religious language, a “spiritual vocabulary that [animates] his delusions,” convincing him that others are corrupt, that he cannot connect with his peers. At first this helps Tim shape the world he struggles to recognize. But, as Granata comes to learn, it goes hand-in-hand with anosognosia, a form of denial that is neurologically programmed into the minds of the mentally ill that forces them to create and accept illogical explanations for the symptoms of their diseases.

Writing from a brother’s perspective, Granata painstakingly details how difficult this hardwired denial is to combat. Even more eloquently, he describes his --- and his family’s --- comprehension of the early symptoms of Tim’s illness as delusions themselves. Having never dealt with a mental illness as destructive and devastating as Tim’s, it is easy for Granata to feel angry at Tim’s denial, take too much stock in his brief moments of lucidity, or, even worse, poke holes in his careful understandings of the world his brain has created. Delusions beget delusions beget delusions, all as the medical community turned a blind eye to the powder keg that was building in the Granata home.

Writing about the day of his mother’s murder, Granata is clear-eyed, almost too graphic. He provides a detailed timeline and the thoughts that took hold of his brother, who by then believed that his parents had sexually abused him as a child. I won’t share the details of that day here, but what happens after is one of the most powerful, transformative bits of writing I have ever had the honor of reading. As Granata writes, “At first, I fought back, tried to separate my life into before and after, as though memories were photographs to sort into albums.” When he breaks through this linear way of thinking and focuses instead on the complex and layered emotions that drive memory, the book takes on a somehow even more shocking and earth-shattering tension as he moves toward honoring his mother, forgiving his brother and finding himself in the process.

EVERYTHING IS FINE is an immediately gripping book, not least for its ripped-from-the-headlines topic. But this is no shock-value memoir by someone looking to trauma dump their story into the lives of others with no follow-up. Granata is an eerily prescient writer who is able to look at the big picture of even the smallest, most tender and intimate moments. What is so impressive about this book is not the shock and horror of what happened to Tim or what he did to his mother, but the ways that Granata is able to weave a tapestry of loss --- Tim’s loss of his control, his mother’s loss of life, Chris’ loss of his best friend and womb-mate --- into something that perfectly demonstrates the ways that we have failed our mentally ill neighbors and the families who love them. Through his salvaging of the Tim he grew up with (which is not easy, not taken or given lightly), Granata is able to explore decades of reform in mental illness care, the changing bonds of familial love, and, of course, the binds of grief and anger.

Haunting, poignant and eye-opening, EVERYTHING IS FINE is a testament not only to a brother’s love, but to a family’s ability to heal. Vince Granata is a cadenced, courageous writer you won’t soon forget.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on April 30, 2021

Everything Is Fine: A Memoir
by Vince Granata

  • Publication Date: April 27, 2021
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982133449
  • ISBN-13: 9781982133443