Day 562: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Cover for We Are Completely Beside OurselvesBest Book of the Week!
Reading Karen Joy Fowler’s fluffy The Jane Austen Book Club made me willing to try a novel that did not sound appealing on the surface. But my experience with Fowler’s previous books in no way prepared me for the profound and moving We Are Completely Beside Ourselves.

Rosemary Cooke starts her story in the middle, when she is at college and has just been arrested for a small release of her inner “monkey girl.” Rosemary has worked hard to hide her past from her new friends at college. The daughter of a behavioral scientist, Rosemary was raised with a chimpanzee Fern as her sister until she was five years old. Then Fern was abruptly removed from the household when Rosemary was away visiting her grandparents. Rosemary’s beloved brother Lowell was angry with the entire family from then on and disappeared completely during his senior year of high school.

Since then, Rosemary’s family has been broken. Her mother had a breakdown from which she never entirely recovered, and her father is remote and alcoholic. Rosemary herself has never felt as if she fits in, after years of being teased by her classmates as the “monkey girl.” Although she seldom stopped talking as a child, now she rarely says anything.  Then Lowell comes to see her, and she has a chance to recover her own history.

Although this novel is written in a light and lively tone, it eventually brought tears to my eyes. It explores such subjects as reconciliation with oneself and others, human relationships and responsibilities toward other species, and the complexities of issues surrounding scientific experiments with animals. It is odd and unusual and incredibly intelligent.

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16 thoughts on “Day 562: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

  1. Naomi July 31, 2014 / 1:02 pm

    I want to read this one for sure. Glad to hear you liked it!

  2. Ngan R. July 31, 2014 / 2:19 pm

    I enjoyed this book greatly and echo your sentiments that it was odd but also extremely intelligent.

    • whatmeread July 31, 2014 / 3:04 pm

      Yes, it amazed me. I enjoyed some of her other books but they were light in weight. This one was light in tone, but that’s not the same thing.

  3. Carolyn O July 31, 2014 / 2:57 pm

    Wow — what disparate subjects! Chimpanzees kind of freak me out — is the section that involves Fern a big chunk of the book?

    • whatmeread July 31, 2014 / 3:03 pm

      The parts about the chimp are actually kind of sweeter than you’d expect, but they appear throughout the book, because she’s revisiting what actually happened to Fern. She was little and didn’t understand what happened when Fern left, so part of it is about discovering what that’s about. Then she goes and sees Fern at the end. If they freak you out, maybe this is not a good one for you, although I confess I thought the whole concept would bother me and it didn’t. The other book I’ve read by Fowler is completely different from the other two, too. My review of that one is coming up within the next two months.

      • Carolyn O July 31, 2014 / 3:40 pm

        Mmm. Maybe I’ll pass, then. But I’m looking forward to your next review!

      • whatmeread July 31, 2014 / 3:53 pm

        I guess I could have said, “Lots of monkey business.”

    • whatmeread August 4, 2014 / 7:27 am

      I thought it was okay if you’re in a certain mood.

  4. Lady @The Snail on the Wall August 6, 2014 / 8:12 am

    I’d go so far as to say this is one of my best books of the year. I absolutely loved it and found it really thought-provoking. We humans are still animals at heart.

    • whatmeread August 6, 2014 / 8:13 am

      Yes, it may very well end up on my list at the end of the year. A few more months to go, though, and lots to read!

  5. Cecilia August 6, 2014 / 8:23 am

    I have heard great things about this one. I will need to put this on my list! Interesting to hear the comments about the Jane Austen Book Club as well. I saw several copies at a book sale I went to over the weekend but didn’t end up getting it.

    • whatmeread August 6, 2014 / 10:14 am

      Jane Austen is much more lightweight than this one. It’s enjoyable, but just okay. I’m not sure why it was so wildly popular.

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