Monday, May 26, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Jay Fowler
Once upon a time, Rosemary Cooke lived in a stable nuclear family with her mother, her father, her brother, and her sister, and all was right with the world.  That may be the fairy tale version, or the real version, or something from somewhere in the middle of all of that.  What is true is that, when she was a child, she was a talker.  A nonstop, no-breath-taking, talker.  At one point, her parents told her to pick the most important thing and just say that.  It wasn’t terribly helpful.  Eventually, her father told her not to start a story at the beginning; to start in the middle.  That was.
Rosemary begins her story in 1996, in the middle.  She hasn’t seen her older brother in ten years.  She hasn’t seen her sister in nearly seventeen years.  She’s doing college on the extended plan, with no concrete goals in mind.  One day in the canteen, she’s swept up by a human hurricane called Harlow Fielding.  Harlow is essentially a one-woman drama department and most of this part of the story surrounds her.  Or does it?  Because the real story for Rosemary is not so much the people who come into her life; the real story is those who leave it.
It’s good to meet Rosemary in college, when she’s at some distance from the disappearance of her sister.  Rosemary-now is quite different from the hazy memories of Rosemary-then.  Rosemary-then had a sister called Fern.  They were raised together by devoted parents; they were inseparable.  There’s almost no moment of her early childhood that Rosemary can recall without Fern.  Then, suddenly, she wasn’t there anymore and Rosemary had to adjust her entire self.  The fact that Fern was a chimpanzee is really beside the point in those early years.
The author (who also wrote THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB) allows Rosemary to tell her story in a kind of desperately breezy kind of way.  The way someone tells a story when they want to give the impression that they’re not deeply affected, even though any casual listener can see right through that.  As the tone subtly shifts, so does Rosemary.  It’s a unique story that has a lot to say about how we form a family; how we can come to value or devalue events or the members of that family over time.  In essence, our lives are just as much about what we forget or leave behind than about what we carry with us.
Rating: 9
March 2014
ISBN# 978-0-14-218082-2  (trade paperback)


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