Monday, March 16, 2015

REVIEW: 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
Release Date: May 30, 2013

Publisher's Description:

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

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, it felt swept away in 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 were 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 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 being 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. 


  1. Thanks for the book review. I find that I have so little time to read books right now, and I love books, that it is really great to catch an excellent book review Your review is very well done ( excellent) and I appreciate the time and energy it takes to write this type of review. I too will be NOT reading this book. It really annoys me for impossible things to happen in a novel -- the Bread Machine before bread machines were invented, and the baby Bjorn used before it was invented -- not to mention the wrong "Rats are nocturnal" mis- science in the book. The story being told "in chunks and pieces" along the way I also find irritating, but, the biggest blow of all -- No reexamination of the memories from Rosemary after she is faced with all the differences - that makes me wonder what the author was even trying to say with the book ! The one quote you found is splendid. Good for you for being able to find something good in this book. Thanks, Lynndanna Stematz

  2. Ooh, inaccuracies like the bread machine thing would drive me crazy!