Novel: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Insightful, witty, and moving, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013) by Karen Joy Fowler is a beautifully written novel about family, animals, society, and the environment. The protagonist, Rosemary Cooke, was a gregarious child in the 1970s, but grew up to be a silent, introverted college student in the mid-1990s. Her narrative, in compellingly nonlinear fashion, recounts her transformation from talker to thinker, a change that pivots on her family’s uniquely dysfunctional make-up and its ultimate shattering, when two of her beloved siblings disappear from her life at a very young age.

I had the pleasure of reading this book with virtually no expectations or foreknowledge, and I think surprise added to my enjoyment. But even had I read a detailed synopsis beforehand, I suspect I still would have loved it. It’s a lightning-quick read, a fascinating character study that succeeds spectacularly at recapturing its time periods. It grapples entertainingly with serious, “mainstream” subject matter like family dynamics, psychology, and issues of identity. But — and here the novel reminds me a little of Lydia Millet’s work — there’s a hint of science fictional rigor to the mix, in the novel’s environmental themes and examination of animals, humanity, and the ways they intersect. It makes for a memorable and satisfying read, by turns funny and touching, nostalgic and forward-looking. Highly recommended.

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