We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons

Publication Date: May 30, 2013

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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Publisher's description

The New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club introduces a middle-class American family, ordinary in every way but one...

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.

My review (first shared March 16, 2015)

2022 Note: I rarely disagree quite so much with critics, but, boy howdy, did I with this book. 'Twas not my cup of tea for sure. Normally, I won't publish any reviews under 3 stars on my blog but since this book was so critically acclaimed, I don't mind sharing my dissenting voice.

First, I highly recommend NOT reading the book jacket on this before diving in. I received this recommendation and it helped with the "surprise" in the book a lot.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is narrated in the first person by Rosemary Cooke. She starts her tale in the middle of the story and then proceeds to tell the whole story in chunks and pieces from various vantage points along the timeline. The story revolves around the missing sister, Fern, and how each family member, particularly Rosemary and her brother Lowell, deals with the circumstances and aftermath of Fern's absence.

In the end, many of Rosemary's memories are shown to be misconceptions once she finally talks to her mother about Fern. I wish the author had gone into more detail about this. Instead, these misconceived memories felt swept away by an offhand comment when I thought the ideas presented there warranted more detail and more exploration. I suspect that the author's treatment of these revelations was to keep consistent with Rosemary's first-person, internal narration. She spends a fair amount of time talking about types of memories and the way people form memories as part of the plot of the book. I can see where someone faced with the knowledge that their version of events was inaccurate would choose to sweep away that knowledge rather than have to revisit and reexamine their memories. I get that the author needed to keep with the first-person narrative. Understanding all that, I still would have liked to see some more reexamination since some of the information was SO different from Rosemary's recollection. Personally, at the time this new information was revealed to Rosemary, I think she was in a place where she would have reexamined her own memories but, for whatever reason, the author left that out.

I didn't love the book. I didn't hate the book. There were several anachronisms in the book I found distracting. She mentions having a bread machine on the counter in 1979 - bread machines were invented in Japan in 1986. She mentions there is a picture of her as a small child with her father carrying her in a Baby Bjorn. The first baby carrier made by that company wasn't made until 1973 and it wasn't called a Baby Bjorn. And for all the psychology terms she used, she then messes up a grade school life science fact. Rats aren't nocturnal. They are crepuscular or even diurnal. They tend to adjust their own sleeping schedule to be in sync with their human companions. (Says the owner of two pet rats who are fat, lazy little critters who sleep ALL night... and a good bit of the day). Will I let little things like this mess up my overall enjoyment of a book... yes, yes, I will - if I don't otherwise love the book. I didn't otherwise love this book.

I did love one quote I found in the book and I am not much one for saving quotes from books (To Kill a Mockingbird aside). "Kindergarten is all about learning which parts of you are welcome at school and which are not". How true. How true.

Author's website: https://www.karenjoyfowler.com/