We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Posted November 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy FowlerTitle: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Goodreads)
Author: Karen Joy Fowler
Published: Serpent's Tail, 2013
Pages: 308
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

First and foremost, I must advise this review will contain a slight spoiler about Rosemary’s sister Fern. I did try to write this review spoiler free but it proved impossible to talk about what made this book interesting without mentioning Fern. I am not sure if this is a real spoiler, as some covers and synopsis I have read give away that Fern is in fact a chimpanzee.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves begins in the middle of the story; Rosemary is in college, her brother Lowell is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism and her sister Fern has disappeared. As the novel progresses in a non-linear format, the puzzle starts to make a lot more sense. Karen Joy Fowler’s novel takes the tragic story of a dysfunctional family and makes it a little more complicated.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Karen Joy Fowler, all I knew about this author was the fact she wrote The Jane Austen Book Club, which I got the impression was a chick-lit but it is a book about books so I plan to read it. After a little research I found that Fowler likes to blend genres; historical fiction with fantasy (Sarah Canary) and chick-lit with mystery (Wit’s End). Having now read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves I know I need to experience her writing again. She appears to be an author that is willing to try something different and give the reader a different experience every time.

While the novel doesn’t begin at the start, the story really begins in the 1970’s when an ordinary Midwestern family take on a baby chimpanzee and raise it as Rosemary’s sister. The two toddlers grow up together, but this makes life a little complicated for Rosemary. While Fern did develop some human social skills; there were some negative effects for Rosemary. No, Rosemary didn’t start flinging poop at people, but her social skills cause plenty of problems when she went to school. They were close sisters despite some problems, but then Fern was taken away; the term ‘went to the farm’ was mentioned which is messed up.

This novel takes on a very complex subject and the mental and psychological effects on a primate in a human behavioural study but also the family involved. The book moves erratically over forty years of Rosemary’s life and the reader is subjected to the scars and damage this whole situation had on her. We are confronted with the difficult subject of advancing science and where we should draw the ethical line in the sand. However, you have Rosemary’s father who has a doctorate in physiological behaviours on one end of the spectrum and then her brother who is part of the Animal Liberation Front on the other side.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves becomes a novel not only full of psychological drama but also about how we treat animals and the environment. There are plenty of complex issues that the reader has to work through but I found that Karen Joy Fowler presented her argument perfectly. Not just jamming her ideals down our throats, she told a story and let us she just how damaging the situation can be. Each part begins with a quote from Franz Kafka’s short story “A Report to an Academy” (“Ein Bericht für eine Akademie”) which is about an ape called Red Peter who learns how to behave as a human and presents his report to an academy of his transformation. This tiny little addition to the book really help seal the deal for me, as this is a satire on the Jews’ assimilation into Western culture as well as a look at evolutionary theory.

I have to admit from the beginning of this novel I wasn’t sure what to expect, beginning the book in the middle was interesting but I was sceptical on how it would work. Karen Joy Fowler handled every delicate issue with such confidence and ease; I was on board with what she was doing really quickly. Yet again I am left with the feeling that I need to learn the literary theories in the psychoanalytical field, I think there is so much worth exploring. Even if you are not interested into a deep dive into psychology, this contemporary novel is fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in some good fiction.

0 responses to “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

  1. Rivorniel Tinubelin

    I also read it this month, and it’s definitely one of my favourite reads from this year (if not the best… I have to think about that). I was so impressed by how she managed to explore such big and emotional topics with such subtlety and dignity.

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