Best 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.