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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel Paperback – February 25, 2014
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*Starred Review* As a girl in Indiana, Rosemary, Fowler’s breathtakingly droll 22-year-old narrator, felt that she and Fern were not only sisters but also twins. So she was devastated when Fern disappeared. Then her older brother, Lowell, also vanished. Rosemary is now prolonging her college studies in California, unsure of what to make of her life. Enter tempestuous and sexy Harlow, a very dangerous friend who forces Rosemary to confront her past. We then learn that Rosemary’s father is a psychology professor, her mother a nonpracticing scientist, and Fern a chimpanzee. Fowler, author of the best-selling The Jane Austen Book Club (2004), vigorously and astutely explores the profound consequences of this unusual family configuration in sustained flashbacks. Smart and frolicsome Fern believes she is human, while Rosemary, unconsciously mirroring Fern, is instantly tagged “monkey girl” at school. Fern, Rosemary, and Lowell all end up traumatized after they are abruptly separated. As Rosemary—lonely, unmoored, and caustically funny—ponders the mutability of memories, the similarities and differences between the minds of humans and chimps, and the treatment of research animals, Fowler slowly and dramatically reveals Fern and Lowell’s heartbreaking yet instructive fates. 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. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 (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
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The narrator is Rosemary Cooke, and she informs the reader immediately that she's starting in the middle of the story. By doing so, she's able to surprise and shatter presumptions. The story is really about her family and how her sister both shaped and broke them (there's a major spoiler here that I'll avoid, although the cover of the book makes much more sense now).
I enjoyed the weaving way the story was told--jumping back and forth from past to future--and Rosemary's wry humor, which made this otherwise sad novel a little more lighthearted.
The writing in this story is especially beautiful with nuggets like this one: "The sunset you see is always better than the one you don't." And I learned so many new words! I recommend reading on the Kindle or with a dictionary handy so as to be able to easily look up definitions.
My only complaint is that this started feeling like an "issue book," the animal rights theme becoming a little too heavy handed. But all in all, this was an engaging and moving read that I highly recommend.
After meeting the author in a Q&A session with her at my campus, I received an even deeper insight into the meaning of the novel.
I would recommend anyone to give this book a try; I'm sure you'll love it.