- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons; Reprint edition (February 25, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780142180822
- ISBN-13: 978-0142180822
- ASIN: 0142180823
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,958 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel Paperback – February 25, 2014
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Praise for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
“A novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get...[Its] fresh diction and madcap plot bend the tone toward comedy, but it never mislays its solemn raison d’être. Monkeyshines aside, this is a story of Everyfamily in which loss engraves relationships, truth is a soulful stalker and coming-of-age means facing down the mirror, recognizing the shape-shifting notion of self.”—Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review
“Fowler’s interests here are in what sets humans apart from their fellow primates. Cognitive, language and memory skills all come into playful question. But the heart of the novel—and it has a big, warm, loudly beating heart throughout—is in its gradually pieced-together tale of family togetherness, disruption and reconciliation. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is Fowler at her best, mixing cerebral and emotional appeal together in an utterly captivating manner.”—The Seattle Times
“Elegantly and humorously orchestrated...Knitting together Rosemary’s at times poignant, at times hilarious scraps of uncovered memories, Fowler creates a fantastical tale of raw, animalistic love.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“[The novel] lies somewhere between psychological thriller, scientific theory and coming-of-age story, a seemingly untenable combination. But Fowler, through wit and mastery of her craft, handles the complexity effortlessly.”—USA Today
“This brave, bold, shattering novel reminds us what it means to be human, in the best and worst sense.”—The Miami Herald
“Rosemary’s voice—vulnerable, angry, shockingly honest—is so compelling and the cast of characters, including Fern, irresistible. A fantastic novel: technically and intellectually complex, while emotionally gripping.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Piquant humor, refulgent language, a canny plot rooted in real-life experiences, an irresistible narrator, threshing insights, and tender emotions—Fowler has outdone herself in this deeply inquisitive, cage-rattling novel.”—Booklist (starred review)
“A strong, unsettling novel...Fowler explores the depths of human emotions and delivers a tragic love story that captures our hearts.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Rosemary’s experience [is] a fascinating basis for insight into memory, the mind, and human development.”—Publishers Weekly
“In this curious, wonderfully intelligent novel, Karen Joy Fowler brings to life a most unusual family. Wonderful Fern, wonderful Rosemary! Through them we feel what it means to be a human animal.”—Andrea Barrett, author of Servants of the Map and Ship Fever
“Karen Joy Fowler has written the book she's always had in her to write. With all the quiet strangeness of her amazing Sarah Canary, and all the breezy wit and skill of her beloved Jane Austen Book Club, and a new, urgent gravity, she has told the story of an American family. An unusual family—but aren't all families unusual? A very American, an only-in-America family—and yet an everywhere family, whose children, parents, siblings, love one another very much, and damage one another badly. Does the love survive the damage? Will human beings survive the damage they do to the world they love so much? This is a strong, deep, sweet novel.”—Ursula K. Le Guin, author of Lavinia, The Unreal and the Real, and the Earthsea Cycle
“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a dark cautionary tale hanging out, incognito-style, in what at first seems a traditional family narrative. It is anything but. This novel is deliciously jaunty in tone and disturbing in material. Karen Joy Fowler tells the story of how one animal—the animal of man—can simultaneously destroy and expand our notion of what is possible.”—Alice Sebold, New York Times-bestselling author of The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon
“You know how people say something is incredible or unbelievable when they mean it's excellent? Well, Karen Joy Fowler's new book is excellent: utterly believable and completely credible - a funny, moving, entertaining novel that is also an important and unblinking review of a shameful chapter in the history of science.”—Dr. Mary Doria Russell, biological anthropologist and author of The Sparrow and Doc
“It’s been years since I’ve felt so passionate about a book. When I finished at 3 a.m., I wept, then I woke up the next morning, reread the ending, and cried all over again.”—Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats and A Tale for the Time Being
“This unforgettable novel is a dark and beautiful journey into the heart of a family, an exploration of the meanings of memory, a study of what it means to be ‘human.’ In the end the book doesn't just break your heart; it takes your heart and won't give it back.”—Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply and Stay Awake
“A funny, stingingly smart, and heartbreaking book. Among other things, it's about love, family, loss, and secrets; the acquisition and the loss of language. It's also about two sisters, Rosemary and Fern, who are unlike any other sisters you've ever met before.”—Kelly Link, author of Stranger Things Happen and Pretty Monsters
About the Author
Karen Joy Fowler, a PEN/Faulkner and California Book Award winner, is the author of six novels (two of them New York Times bestsellers) and four short story collections. She has been a Dublin IMPAC nominee, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.
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Over and above the dysfunctionality of the family, however, is the book’s internal concern on animal experimentations and the ethics of the handling the animals by scientists and the laboratories. To say more on the subject would be giving away the plot.
From where I stand, I can say that this book was a delightful surprise, although it has dark, shattering and deeply moving sides to it. The wit of the speaker, the brilliance in the unfolding of the plot, the depth in the scenes, and the handling of tension and suspense are absolutely exquisite.
To take a different plot of such an unusual family, to make their story absolutely believable, and to give it a heart as well is not any run-of-the-mill author’s feat. For this novel, Karen Joy Fowler deserves a huge applause.
The novel is narrated by Rosemary Cooke who, in 1996, is 22 years old and resides in Davis, California. "Ten years had passed since I'd last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared." The family's past is slowly revealed. Rosemary's father is a college professor to whom she barely speaks. Her mother has been a go-between for Rosemary and her father but has decided that she would no longer do this. Rosemary is a fifth year student at the University of California, Davis but is still far from graduation.
Rosemary grew up in Bloomington, Indiana where her parents still reside. Except for Thanksgiving, she rarely sees her father. "Antagonism in my family comes wrapped in layers of code, sideways feints, full deniability." We learn that Rosemary's older brother left home years ago and her sister is a missing mystery named Fern.
Very shortly into the novel, Rosemary takes the reader back to 1979 when Rosemary is five years old, the year her sister disappeared. "I'd been angry about Fern's disappearance, but it seemed too dangerous just then to be mad at our parents and I was frightened instead."
It would be a shame to give more of the plot away. Suffice it to say, that Fern is a mystery that we are shortly privy to. Rosemary's brother also is a mystery, a lost child to her and her parents. What has happened in this family to destroy bonds and make children disappear with animosity and antagonism? It is not likely anything you are thinking. This is a book that is a must-read and one I will never forget.
It is the 1990's and man regards animals as his chattel, not terribly different from today. Ape experiments were dense on the ground and several families had attempted the experiment of raising an ape as a child. These experiences have rendered both the humans and the apes in a state which is not a fit for either species. The most compelling theme of this book is the concept of "uncanny valley response" which is the "human aversion to things that look almost but not quite like people." Rosemary's entering kindergarten with ape-like mannerisms triggered this response in her new peers, just as wild animals classically do poorly when released from domestic life into the wild.
The line of human and "human like" is well explored in an intelligent and literate form. References are drawn from the non-fiction world of interaction. Into the mix is the role of memory as it can "seem like a mist, as if what really happened matter less than what should have happened." The actor in this synthesis is language which serves to mold our memories into edifices. And language is the hinge on which the human species moves away from its relatives. Expressive language other than simple words and phrases is the gold standard for awarding human status and is the impetus for many an experiment.
This is a thoughtful book that engages the reader fully and quickly. I had this book recommended to me from a multitude of sources online, including Amazon. It just never appealed to me, so I am late to the reading. Now short listed for awards, I was compelled to try it and recommend it to you. Just as the idea of raising an ape with a human is not at all what the surface may suggest, this book has deeper rivers to row.