We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013, 310 pages (hardcover)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was that book I saw everywhere. I became curious, enough to read the synopsis. It was annoyingly vague. I knew I was in for some sort of family drama (possibly involving monkeys?) but – hoping it’d be nothing like When God was a Rabbit – this was enough for me to take the plunge. In this case, it was worth it! I was delivered all the heartfelt, realistic and zany family dynamics I’m always in the market for, plus I acquired a new favourite author!

I would explain Completely Beside Ourselves as Rosemary Cooke’s journey toward self-actualization. What we know about her from the beginning is that she used to talk incessantly. She also used to be part of a well-oiled and functioning household, alive with trouble-making siblings, an active mom, and a clever psychologist father. Fast forward several years and something has happened to upend all of it. Rosemary’s mom is lackluster, her dad an amorphous presence on the sidelines of her life, her brother a rogue domestic terrorist wanted by the government, and she, at the centre of it all, has gone silent. What the novel does is suspensefully walk us through events preceding and following the mysterious event – we quickly learn it has something to do with her sister, Fern – that changed everything. Clues are dropped here and there, but nothing will prepare the reader for what’s coming.

Fowler takes a really distinct approach to words that I quite enjoy. Her observations about life are either poignant or droll, and often both. She excels at holding off important information until the moment it will have maximum emotional impact. Probably because her own father was a psychologist who studied learning behaviours in animals, that’s something I found this book did really well in exploring. It boasts a lot of psychology, raising important questions about animal rights, our human relationships with animals, and the myriad implications. All I can do is highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in animals or behaviorism. That, and get my hands on another Fowler novel ASAP.

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