Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Posted by nliakos on January 10, 2016

by Karen Joy Fowler (G. P. Putnam 2013; ISBN 978-0-399-16209-1)

It’s interesting to look at the suggested classifications for a novel on the copyright page. This one is classified as Families, Self-realization in women, Human-animal relationships, Life change events (all the preceding followed by –Fiction), Domestic fiction, and Psychological fiction. It kind of gives you a preview of what the book is about–but not really.

Rosemary Cooke is the woman who realizes who she is (and narrates the story). SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading here if you want the same reading experience I had–

That is, shock to discover in Chapter 5 that Rose’s missing sister is a chimpanzee. Fern came to live with Rose’s family when Rose was one month old and Fern about the same age. They were raised together for five years, after which Fern was taken away,and Rose was left to wonder what had happened. This event is central to Rose’s life and to her story. Her entire family was profoundly affected by Fern’s removal, and Rose’s whole life experience reflects an alienation from human society that she attributes to her closeness to Fern. She feels in some ways more like a chimpanzee than a “normal” human.

The book is full of memorable characters: Rose, her brother Lowell, whose life was even more affected by the loss of Fern than hers was, if that is possible; Rose and Lowell’s parents; Fern herself; and even the minor characters of her peculiar friend Harlow, her roommate Todd and his lawyer mother, and her apartment manager Ezra made a deep impression.

This is not just a novel; it is a crusade against psychological and medical research using animals, chimpanzees especially. It reminded me in many ways of Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, in which the story is a thinly veiled diatribe against the meat industry. (Imagine my surprise to read in the Acknowledgments that the author gives thanks “most especially to the amazingly awesome Ruth Ozeki for her friendship and support”!

Highly recommended.

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