Everything Here Is Beautiful is a quiet, moving novel about family, sisterhood, and mental illness. It’s the story of two sisters: responsible, measured Miranda and impulsive, free-spirited Lucia. Over the course of their lives, Miranda and Lucia’s relationship remains central, even as they struggle to relate to and take care of each other. Lucia’s life is marked by mental illness, while Miranda’s is marked by her sense of duty to her sister.
I loved the scope of this novel. Over many years, it ranges from New York City to a small village in Ecuador to Switzerland to rural Minnesota. Lucia and Miranda build lives and families, and these various ties—to their husbands, boyfriends, children, friends, and each other—are continually broken and reforged. It’s a lush portrait of a contemporary family.
Though the book is much more explicitly about mental illness than it is about immigration, the movement of people—across time, culture, and place—is central to the story. Lucia and Miranda’s mother immigrated from China shortly after her husband died. Miranda was born in China; Lucia in America. Lucia falls in love with an Israeli immigrant and then with an undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant with whom she has a child and eventually moves with to Ecuador. Miranda marries a Swiss man living in the States; eventually they move to Switzerland. Everyone in the book is is in constant motion: moving between countries and continents, making homes in new places, always traveling, always holding multiple cultures in their bodies. It felt quintessentially American in the truest sense: a continual blurring of boundaries, both physical (countries) and emotional.
Lee uses multiple POVs to great effect. The narration moved through various points of view, and shifted from first person to third, but was never clunky. The various points of view gave the book a sense of fullness—I felt like I truly came to know both sisters and their families because I got to read about them from different perspectives. Sometimes the timelines would overlap—a section in one character’s POV would end, and another character would pick up the story, occasionally going back over events that had just happened. I loved the way Lee played with time. She used the perspectives of all the characters at her disposal, and this allowed the reader to understand them as whole and complex people. They saw each other in different ways; they experienced the same events differently. Even though the characters couldn’t always see beyond themselves, the reader always could.
I think this was especially powerful because mental illness, which is so often misunderstood and misrepresented, was so central to this story. Lee explored it from so many angles, and the fact that some of them were contradictory added to the authenticity of it. I didn’t always like the choices the characters made, or how they treated each other, but I could always see where they were coming from.
The writing is gorgeous. There were so many perfect descriptions of ordinary life: family dinners, therapy appointments, first dates, walking in the city or the countryside. It was a quiet book, I think, because it primarily focused on people moving through their lives. Things happened, characters reacted. It was never boring because the characters, and their emotional connections to each other, were so strong.
Sometimes the best books are quiet. Everything Here Is Beautiful is a rich exploration of family: what ties us to each other and what sets us loose. It wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was solid—a moving and successful portrait of the inner lives of ordinary people. I enjoyed every moment I spent in the company of Lucia and Miranda—the heartbreaking, difficult moments as well as the profoundly joyful ones.