Title: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Author: Karen Joy Fowler
Type: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publishing Date: February 25, 2014
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she explains. “I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion she was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half and I loved her as a sister.” As a child, Rosemary never stopped talking. Then, something happened, and Rosemary wrapped herself in silence.
In We Are All Completely beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler weaves her most accomplished work to date—a tale of loving but fallible people whose well-intentioned actions lead to heartbreaking consequences.
As some of you may know, I joined my job’s book club this past February. I happen to work at a library which makes things a little more fun. I’ve learned over my time working there that librarians are some of the most interesting folks you’ll ever meet. They all seem to have second lives and they know what is considered a good read or not. That gives them an A in my book.
This novel surprised me. It is another one that I wouldn’t pull off the shelf for myself, so I had little to no expectations upon reading it. The author is clever. I read the excerpt on the back of the book which reveals the big twist that you learn about a third of the way through the book. I did this and still forgot the twist. The story is so well-crafted that you forget that you already know that there’s a key detail that the narrator is leaving out.
I really enjoyed the voice that’s used. The main character, Rosemary Cooke, is sarcastic, intelligent, and a little detached. Her vocabulary and knowledge about scientific experiments involving chimps is extensive. The author referenced a lot of real experiments throughout the story which I recognized due to various psychology classes. Particulary those that deal with animal psychology.
In essence, this is a coming of age story that is less about the missing sister and more about the long-term effect that her presence and absence had on Rose. She grows a lot throughout the book and you clearly see the fragility of memories.
Both her and her brother are beautifully fleshed out. Rose more so than her brother but that’s to be expected in a main character. Although we don’t get to see her brother as often, we learn a lot about him. The loss of their sister hit him harder than the rest and he never recovered. She reads him well.
Also, the descriptions of the the settings were very well-crafted. The eye for detail and the feeling that each setting produced was impressive. I really felt that I was there and could relate to the characters.
“Language does this to our memories–simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”
“The world runs,” Lowell said, “on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don’t mind what they don’t see. Make them look and they mind, but you’re the one they hate, because you’re the one that made them look.”
Overall, this was an incredibly interesting and quick read. It makes you really think about what goes on in the labs that study animals and the aftermath it may have on those creatures. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected.
Thanks for reading,