Friday, October 13, 2023

Everything All At Once by Steph Catudal - Book Review and Discussion

"What a blessing and a curse to learn in an instant that pain is the intercessor of empathy." - Everything All At Once, Steph Catudal

Are you considering picking up a memoir for your next read? Check out my thoughts about a recently released memoir, " Everything All At Once" by Steph Catudal.

Everything All At Once

Steph Catudal

goodreads // amazon // library

An intimate and evocative memoir of one woman’s experience with the universality of grief and the redemptive power of love as she endures her husband’s 84-day battle with lung cancer. When Steph Catudal met her husband Rivs, she thought that the love, stability, and warmth she shared with her husband had finally dispelled her pent-up anger and grief over the loss of her father and her faith. But when Rivs became ill and was put into coma at the height of the pandemic, the painful memories of her childhood—watching her father die of cancer—came flooding back. Written with lush lyricism, Steph’s account of how this crisis forced her to confront her past is raw, illuminating, and heartbreaking: her father’s death that wrecked her faith in God and jumpstarted a decade of rebellion, including running away from home and living out of a van at age 16, struggling with alcoholism, and delving into drugs to ease her pain. Sitting by Rivs's bedside, she grappled with the memories of the past and the uncertainties of the future while reckoning with the unknowns of her husband’s illness. Rivs would endure a grueling 84 days in a medically induced coma, eventually undergoing chemo for a similar illness that stole her father. Like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart, Everything All At Once is a heart-wrenching and ultimately uplifting reflection on resilience and a powerful reminder that we can find healing no matter how broken we are.

Book Review of "Everything All At Once"
by Steph Catudal

What Worked for Me

Heartstopping medical mystery 

My absolute favorite parts of "Everything All At Once" revolved around Steph's husband, Riv, and the doctors' trying desperately to determine what was causing the lung damage that was killing him. Because he became ill at the same time COVID hit, the assumption was that that was the cause. I was impressed by the extreme lengths that their medical community went to to save Riv, such as placing him on ECMO during chemotherapy. I was also humbled by the extreme endurance of his body. Riv was previously an endurance athlete and it was that super human strength that carried him through impossible odds. His previous extreme athletic training came together with excellent medical care beautifully in what is truly a miracle. I could not put the book down in those moments, learning how it unfolded. Their story is truly inspiring and I wish there had been more from those parties included.

Beautiful writing

While at times the writing was a bit much, see below, for the most part, I really enjoyed Catudal's descriptions and writing style. I would absolutely read another book by this author and I saved several quotes such as the one at the beginning of the post, and this one below.

"Tragedy shapes us for better or worse. It molds us like clay. We are spun in the depths of despair and then forged in the kiln of awareness." - Everything All At Once, Steph Catudal

What I Struggled With

Lots of hyperbole

This happened throughout "Everything All at Once," but one moment that stuck out in particular as my breaking point from being able to relate to Catudal's writing was:

" the ceiling fan spins violently above me. I wonder if, like me, it is trying to balance a world on the verge of implosion."

There were many writing choices like this and ultimately it took me out of the story. Their journey and this medical emergency is heart-wrenching - no personification of fans or other hyperbole needed! It felt like a disservice to Catudal's writing and the story she had to share when the writing became overly hyperbolic.

There were also many moments that felt overly personal. It's like a super saccharine Facebook post to a husband from a wife on their anniversary. Not that it is disingenuous, but by sharing it, repeatedly, it loses some of its meaning. Most of the last chapter is literally writing pulled from her personal Instagram.

More medical information, fewer flashbacks 

The parts about Catudal and her husband were interesting when not overwritten; I wish there had been more. An interview with the physicians or nurses that treated Riv, would have been fascinating and provided another perspective on the drama and healing. I would love to have read what they thought of everything - the COVID conditions, his treatment, recovery, etc- after reflecting back on it.

Memoir moments felt aimless

It is the height of coincidence meeting with fateful cruelty that the author's father and now her husband suffered from lung cancer. Those memoir moments connecting those experiences made sense to be included in the story and enriched each other. 

However, there were many moments from the author's personal life that just didn't seem fully connected to the overall arch of the main story in "Everything All At Once". There were many personal stories that while interesting felt like nonsequiturs and could easily have been left out without taking away from the main points of her memoir. In their place, I would have loved to have learned more about her and her husband as a couple, or her and her father. I think ultimately this would have made me more invested a reader. 

Have you read "Everything All At Once"by Steph Catudal? If so, comment below and let me know your thoughts on the novel.

Looking to read another heart-wrenching memoir about family and growth? 
Check out my review of "Boy Erased" by Garrard Conley below!


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