Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler


This book is best enjoyed without having read many reviews or previews, because the "reveal" that comes in the middle of the novel is critical to its success. While this reveal could have easily landed this novel into the realm of absurd and fantastical, this author keeps the book grounded while unveiling many truths about humanity, family, and sisterhood. This is a compelling, relatable, witty and extremely well written novel that touches on many subjects, but is mostly about family.

At the heart of this novel is a confused narrator, Rosemary Cooke, who was loquacious as a child but has become a woman entrapped in silence. The focus is on something that happened that was so awful she must try to forget it. As she says, "Though I was only five when she disappeared from my life, I do remember her. I remember her sharply — her smell and touch, scattered images of her face, her ears, her chin, her eyes. Her arms, her feet, her fingers. But I don’t remember her fully..."

The Cooke family is a loving, close-knit unit which endures many unexpected losses. The family becomes a dysfunctional one as it disinentagrates...and here, Fowler explores the relationship between humans and animals, the impact of scientific experimentation, and the bonds of family. The reader's own confusion while we sort out the facts of the story are mirrored by Rosie's same feelings, and I especially loved the intersection of truth and memory as they came together and clashed in many circumstances. As Fowler explains, “The happening and telling are very different things. This doesn’t mean that the story isn’t true, only that I honestly don’t know anymore if I really remember it or only remember how to tell it. Language does this to our memories, simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An off-told story is like a photograph in a family album. Eventually it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.” 

I love that this book is an amazing and strange story, but also will provoke you to think about larger issues like animal rights and the food industries. The author unfolds a sensitive, intellectual, plot-driven novel which is highly readable and merits many praises. 

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