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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013)
by Karen Joy Fowler
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Clever girl/chimp family story
I had this book out of the library for a week before I dared begin reading it. I had heard raves about it but was intimidated when I read reviews and cover blurbs that called it heartbreaking and traumatizing. But I ran out of books and so I picked it up and said if it didn't grab me I'd just take it back to the library unread. Well, it grabbed me.
I immediately loved the author's sassy voice and the way she aimed sly asides at the reader. Clearly there was something odd in the background but at least she didn't wait long before revealing what it was (chapter 5, I think).
It's said that all stories are about love, and clearly this one is too. And that there's a family deeply wounded by loss. But it's loving and satisfying, a good story.
I was close to a 5 star rating but I'm stingey with stars. I loved the pacing and the rhythm of the writing. Story itself was compelling and kept my interest. There was one point where I was getting a little bored with the middle of the beginning but it switched pretty soon after. Characters themselves? Eh. Mostly appreciated the structure and voice. A fun read!
I liked this a lot. Very interior, but in a loopy funny way. Near the end some plot twists seemed a little too sudden, not sure why she did it that way. Very readable, and I enjoyed the bits about psychology and behavior.
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.
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.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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It's really a shame that I only liked the last 50 pages.
This book was bad. Like BAD. Like I can’t believe I had to finish it bad. It probably didn’t help that I’ve never cared much for animals (I’m a humanist through and through; feel free to revoke my humanity points at any date available), but beyond this disparity of interests (science, animals, psychology, lazy writing, to name a few) the overall book was not only shoddily put together but neophyte in so many turns of phrase (how fanfic it felt at times). Looking up the word neophyte? Me too. Two can play at this game.
Very little happens in this book. Most pages are whiled away with mind-numbing details of our narrator, Rosemary Cooke's uneventful and boring days. I do believe paint drying has more life than Ms. Cooke at this point, I really do. Please enlighten me if you have the understanding as to why the author decided to have the narrator have "false" memories—so many pages taken up by scenes only to be left with the realization they're probably contrived. Backpeddaling and excusing herself of the banalest of situations, I felt adrift and lost as to what to possibly glean from this. Perhaps that was the intended feeling. It probably was. I still don't like it.
At the end of the day I get it—animals are "people" to in the large definition of shared compassioned and feeling—and like heck, sure. I was just not convinced, and the poor development of the novel didn't help. Our narrator is spoiled and somehow untreated for mental illness despite a psychologist father, and the flightiness of her relationships to even her own surroundings was annoying. I couldn't connect with her if I tried.
My favorite characters were the high-flying Harlow and probably the narrator's brother, who actually do something in this book and give it a semblance of color. That's really all I have to say about that.
I've collected my favorite eye-rolling sentences and wish to subject to you the same level of pain I was forced to endure. Under spoiler, because I like to think I'm merciful.
"At lunchtime I grabbed something, probably grilled cheese, let’s say it was grilled cheese, in the school cafeteria."
"There must have been music in the background, because there’s always music in the background now, our whole lives sound-tracked (and most of it too ironic to be random. I’m just saying), but honestly I don’t remember."
"A young man rose from his seat, telling her, with a slight stutter, to take a chill pill. She threw a spoon that bounced audibly off his forehead. 'Don’t side with assholes, she said. Her voice was very not chill."
"I knew nothing about Jean Harlow except that she was maybe in Gone With the Wind, which I’d never seen nor ever wanted to see. That war is over. Get over it."
"It occurred to me that I was going to miss my afternoon class. European Medieval History. Iron maidens and oubliettes and burned at the stake."
Hates people recounting old wars but in a medieval history class?? oh, hon.
"Bob helped himself ostentatiously to a slice of dark meat."
"'How did you know where I live?' I asked. 'I got it off your police report.' 'How did you get in?' She pulled the pencil, and her hair dropped silkily to her shoulders. 'I gave your apartment manager a pretty face and a sad story. I’m afraid he can’t really be trusted.' Her tone now was one of great concern." I don't know about you but I love mid-grade fanfic.
"A crow, hunching over the warm streetlight as if it were an egg, scolded us from above. Maybe in Japanese. 'Ba! Ka! Ba! Ka!' We were definitely being called rude names; the only question was the language."
"Up at the vet school, Davis had a famous fistulated cow, a cow with a deliberate hole punched into its stomach through which digestive processes could be observed. She was a popular destination for school trips, a reliable exhibit on Picnic Day. You could reach right into that cow, feel her intestines. Hundreds of people had done so. And that cow, Lowell said, lived the life of Riley compared to your typical dairy cow." This is fairly common and doesn't hurt the animals. I'm tired of propaganda.
"I remembered Dr. Harlow. He’d come to dinner at the farmhouse and sat between Fern and me. Later that night, he’d read us a chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, doing Roo’s voice so high and breathy it made us laugh every time Roo spoke. I didn’t remember the lemon drops, though I’d bet that was the part Fern would remember. I had a fleeting thought that if Dad had really admired Harry Harlow, I might have been named after him. I might be Harlow right now, same as Harlow was. How freaky would that be?"
"He swung his arms for the heat of it and wondered how the game with Marion had turned out. That game wouldn’t have ended well, even with him playing. At best, they might have avoided downright ugly. Without him? What’s uglier than ugly?"
"A man at another table accused his breakfast partner of pulling rainbows and unicorns out of her ass. I don’t know if it was exactly this moment when I overheard that, but I’ve always remembered it."
"But whoever this person was, s/he didn’t like the way lab animals were treated, and thought Lowell might agree that something needed to be done." How hard is it for people to say they?
"At least we were at the train station. Airports and train stations are where you get to cry. I’d once gone to an airport for just that purpose."
"[...]obsessional limerence." Please google limerance and come back.
There's certainly more but I think I've made my point. I didn't like this. Enough said. On to greener pastures. ( )