So, sometimes I get nostalgic for books from the past. Sue me. I can't help it, and I get excited all over again about sharing the book with other readers (or non-readers, there's hope). Yes, I'm working on two mystery/crime reviews for current reads, but I think Friday is a perfect day to open the vault of past special reads. After all, it's the weekend, and we all know that weekends were made for reading, right? So, having come across a list I posted eight years ago of reads that had stayed with me, I grabbed onto a few and read my past reviews of them. One of those books is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I reverently whisper the title to myself and let the years fall away to when that book was new to me. I now feel duty-bound as a book advocate to share my review once again of this book that gobsmacked me so. Oh, to have time to read it again.
Reading Room Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Although this novel is assigned six parts to it,
for me it is separated into two parts, before the big reveal and after.
At first, I was bothered by the big reveal, and it annoyed me in the
sense of having been tricked or snookered into believing that the book
would be about one thing, and, then, a huge monkey-wrench (only
the-already-have-read-it will truly appreciate that term) is tossed into
the perceived story to come. That the reveal comes almost 100 pages
into the book seemed particularly unsporting. However, after getting
over my initial shock and disgruntlement, I began to realize what all
the hullabaloo over this novel was about. There are quite simply
important issues at hand in Rosemary Cooke's narrative of her life, her
unusual early childhood and her confused state from age five to early
adulthood. Unfortunately, so much cannot be related in this review
unless I fill it with spoilers, which I try diligently to avoid in
At the heart of this story is Rosemary Cooke and her family, who experience the closest knit love of togetherness and the consuming grief of unexpected separations. As a loquacious child, Rosie's (Rosemary) father advised her to start in the middle of what she wanted to say, and so it is this very manner in which she proceeds to tell the story of her family from her perspective. It is only after she is in college that she begins to know and understand the perspectives of her other family members. So much is unspoken, too much that Rosie has had to fill in for herself, and not all of her version is accurate, due to missing information. Not to worry. Along with the great reveal are other reveals that plug the holes of faded and selective memory. Rosie might start in the middle, but the beginning and ending (up to a satisfactory point of ending) are disclosed, too. The title is well chosen, as the family is indeed completely beside themselves with a despondency that exists primarily because the deep voids of information are left unresolved for so long. I kept wanting to shout, just ask why or what happened. Alas, Rosie must take her own path (and sweet time) to lift herself out of the fog that encapsulates her.
Without giving anything away, because it is to important for each reader to discover the hidden beauty and ugliness of the tale for him/her self, I need to at least remark on the fact that this book will most likely make you want to know more about experimentation by scientific institutions on animals, past and present, and the unconscionable treatment of animals by the food industries. It doesn't preach about the wrongs, but you may want to after reading it. Several quotes from the book concerning this issue of animal treatment made an impression on me. " ... a number of states are considering laws that make the unauthorized photographing of what goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses a felony." Unfortunately, I believe this legislation has already been enacted in some places. —“I’m unclear on the definition of person the courts have been using. Something that sieves out dolphins but lets corporations slide on through.” A thought provoking assessment. “No Utopia is Utopia for everyone.” Ain't that the truth.
So, Karen Joy Fowler, you have done yourself proud with this novel that touches our hearts and minds in a most profound way. Kudos to your excellent writing, which includes a richness of vocabulary last encountered by me in my earlier years of reading the apposite-worded Agatha Christie novels. I feel rather as if I sucked the pages of your story dry, in that I gleaned so much worth retaining. You, Ms. Fowler, have reached a level of distinction in your writing that demands attention, not to mention awards.