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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by…
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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013)

by Karen Joy Fowler

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,2561812,844 (3.85)2 / 236
  1. 30
    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Though it is less witty than We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Never Let Me Go is another poignant and insightful story about biological experimentation and human identity. Both novels feature lyrical prose, well-developed characterization, and haunting tones of melancholy.… (more)
  2. 10
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (Laura1124)
  3. 00
    Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (Ciruelo)
  4. 00
    Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant (JenMDB)
  5. 11
    The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale (vwinsloe)
  6. 33
    The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving (Limelite)
    Limelite: Eccentric family members, family dynamics, coming of age, with an animal in the middle of it all, only not a bear in Fowler's novel. Two intelligent and original novels of similar experimentalism and high quality.
  7. 01
    The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal (marieke54)
  8. 01
    Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees by Roger Fouts (marieke54)
  9. 01
    The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams (susanbooks)
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"A family with two daughters and a mother and father who'd promised to love them both exactly the same"
By sally tarbox on 26 October 2017
Format: Paperback
I'd probably give this a 3.5*.
Narrated by an apparently unfocused and troubled student, Rosemary Cooke, the reader soon becomes aware of a problematic home life: "ten years had passed since I'd last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared." In excerpts of memory, cut into current events, the reader is slowly made aware of what happened and the ongoing trauma; it's not what you may have expected...
Heartbreaking in parts, very cleverly written, I nonetheless found the disjointed narrative slightly worked against it. ( )
  starbox | Oct 26, 2017 |
Karen Joy Fowler has authored six novels and three short story collections. She has won a Pen/Faulkner award among numerous other prizes. Fowler has two children, and seven grandchildren. She lives in Santa Cruz, California. In We are All Completely Beside Our Selves, she has penned a book at once curious, frightening, sad, and comical. The is the tale of the Cooke family: the father, Vincent, is a psychiatrist, and his wife, and the children Lowell, Rosemary, and Fern. The last two were raised together, until Fern was “sent away.”

The novel is narrated by Rosemary, “sister” to Fern. She begins the story “in medias res,” so I will do likewise. Fowler writes, “So the middle of my story comes in the winter of 1996. By then, we’d long since dwindled to the family that old home movie foreshadowed—me, my mother, and unseen but evident behind the camera, my father. In 1996, ten years had passed since I’d last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared. The middle of my story is all about their absence, though if I hadn’t told you that, you might not have known. By 1996, whole days went by in which I hardly thought of either one. […] I was twenty-two years old, meandering through my fifth year at the University of California, Davis, and still maybe only a junior or maybe a senior, but so thoroughly uninterested in the niceties of units or requirements or degrees that I wouldn’t be graduating anytime soon. My education, my father liked to point out, was wider than it was deep. He said this often” (5-6).

Rosemary’s education seems to be a persistent topic for family discussion. Karen writes, “Mom had a theory I heard through the bedroom wall. You didn’t need a lot of friends to get through school, she told Dad, but you had to have one. For a brief period in the third grade, I pretended that Dae-jung and I were friends. He didn’t talk, but I was well able to supply both sides of the conversation. I returned a mitten he’d dropped. We ate lunch together, or at least we ate at the same table, and in the classroom he’d been given the desk next to mine on the theory that when I talked out of turn, it might help his language acquisition. The irony was that his English improved due in no small part to my constant yakking at him, but as soon as he could speak, he made other friends. Our connection was beautiful, but brief” (113).

Fowler has laid a series of less than obvious clues regarding an ending which will offer the reader something between shock and amusement. How a reader places the clues determines where a reader begins to assemble these clues. One peculiar item is the lack of a name for the mother. I usually note names of important characters, and in beginning this review, I realized I had none for her. I sped through the book from page one to the end, and never saw her referred to as anything except Mom or mother. Very annoying! I hereby give her the daughter’s name, Rosemary.

We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler is a tragic story difficult for animal lovers to read. The only saving grace is the end of most chimpanzee experiments, and serious curtailing of test on other mammals. 5 star

--Chiron, 7/17/17 ( )
  rmckeown | Aug 27, 2017 |
clean. easy to read. sticks to its formula, straight as hollywood. no stand-out moments and definitely has an agenda, but interesting for what it is. picked it up and started reading knowing nothing, so that probably helped with the interest factor, things actually hitting as a surprise.

but yeh, don't regret reading and probably never will again

(the attempted japango a painful, also)
  shmibs | Aug 24, 2017 |
I think this may be the perfect book club book. After I read it, I wanted to talk about it. ( )
  sblock | Jul 11, 2017 |
Odd and delightful. An unexpected pleasure. ( )
  dcmr | Jul 4, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 184 (next | show all)
Fowler, best known for her novel “The Jane Austen Book Club,” is a trustworthy guide through many complex territories: the historical allure and dicey ethics of experimental psychology, not to mention academic families and the college towns of Bloomington and Davis.
 
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Epigraph
... Your experience as apes, gentlemen—to the extent that you have something of that sort behind you—cannot be more distant from you than mine is from me. But it tickles at the heels of everyone who walks here on earth, the small chimpanzee as well as the great Achilles.

—Franz Kafka, "A Report for an Academy"
Dedication
In memory of the wonderful Wendy Weil, champion of books, animals, and, in both categories, me
First words
Prologue
Those who know me now will be surprised to learn that I was a great talker as a child.
So the middle of my story comes in the winter of 1996.
Quotations
What I found in books was daughters indulged and daughters oppressed, daughters who spoke loudly and daughters made silent. I found daughters imprisoned in towers, beaten and treated as servants, beloved daughters sent off to keep house for hideous  monsters. Mostly, when girls were sent away, they were orphans, like Jane Eyre and Anne Shirley, but not always. Gretel was taken with her brother into the forest and abandoned there. Dicey Tillerman was left with her siblings in a parking lot at a shopping mall. Sara Crewe, whose father adored her, was still sent away to live at school without him. All in all, there was a wide range of possibility, and Fern's treatment fit easily inside it.
Where you succeed will never matter so much as where you fail
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The story of an American family, middle class in middle America, ordinary in every way but one. But that exception is the beating heart of this extraordinary novel.

Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399162097, Hardcover)

From the New York Times–bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club, the story of an American family, middle class in middle America, ordinary in every way but one. But that exception is the beating heart of this extraordinary novel.

Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Coming of age in middle America, eighteen-year-old Rosemary evaluates how her entire youth was defined by the presence and forced removal of an endearing chimpanzee who was secretly regarded as a family member and who Rosemary loved as a sister.

» see all 5 descriptions

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