Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

While visiting my Aunt last weekend, we have many extensive and sometimes heated debates about books. One that she recommended completely was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler. She didn’t tell me anything about it, but mentioned that she had read it several times and would continue to. Therefore, I came home and promptly bought the book without actually reading the description. I’ll read most anything.

Book: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Fowler
Published: 2014 by Serpent’s Tail
Available in kindle, paperback and audio on amazon.

This book is confusing in that it starts in the middle. The reason for this unusual narrative structure is based on advice the narrator, Rosie, was given as a chatty child, ‘start in the middle’ to help control her storytelling. The middle is a 22 year old Rosie, drifting through college with no clear direction for a major and no desire to talk about her family to anyone. She doesn’t have friends, she doesn’t talk much, and she doesn’t like people to know of her sister that was taken away, nor her brother that disappeared and is wanted by the FBI. The actual narrative is interesting, its introspective, fragmented a bit like memory, assuming prior knowledge of events that haven’t been told yet. Rosie talks of her fragmented family, and of meeting Harlowe, a drama major with a penchant for getting into trouble and breaking into Rosie’s apartment. As the chapters progress, you learn of her brother, Lowell’s return and wish to see her. You learn of her past, her childhood being raised as twin to a chimpanzee. Of her chimp sister being taken and her thoughts and feelings, and her sibling jealously.

start at the middle. This tale starts at the middle, and often, Rosie skips to her past, to moving, to Fern, her sister and to her brother, but she weaves a tale of her early life and the impact on her adult self. She doesn’t feel she belongs, that is apparent extremely early, but why she feels that way is dripped through the story. You have to pay attention, because details are slipped in, and you need to pay attention to the threads as they are woven into what happened to Fern, and to Lowell, and to Rosie and how this family fell apart over a period of years.

Rosie’s dad is a psychologist, if that wasn’t already apparent, and the constant references to developmental models and to chimp studies are clearly explained for non-scientists, but with the air of someone who was bought up exposed to the terms and ideas. As a psychology student, I enjoyed being able to relate my own knowledge and studies to the tale.

If you decide to read this, which I would recommend, it isn’t a happy tale of a happy family with a stereotypical happy ever after. Its pain, selfishness, the fragility of memory and perspective, and it is an active read. I would recommend setting aside a whole day, with a pot of tea and no distractions. read it in one go if you can, I had to leave a few days between parts 2 and 3 and it took me a while to get a grip on the threads again.

I would give this a 4-star, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a challenging read both technically and emotionally.

 

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