Let me start by saying this is one of those books that I thought I should read. It had been on my goodread’s “want to read” list because everyone I knew loved it, but the subject matter – family drama – isn’t my usual fare.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a novel about family, and it’s an experience that doesn’t let go. The story – mostly beautiful and weirdly believable – is narrated by 22-year-old Rosemary Cooke, an Indiana college student. At the novel’s core are Rosemary’s familial relationships with her sister, Fern, her big brother, Lowell, and her unconventional parents, both exhausted and unable to cope with the early loss of Fern.
The story is set in the 1970s, a time of expanding social consciences and academic nature v nurture feuds. Rosemary’s father is a psychologist surrounded by eager grad students studying animal behavior, human and non-human. The Cooke’s farm house is a research facility studying the sameness and differences between Rosemary and her sister, Fern, a chimpanzee, who was part of the family until her unexplained disappearance when Rosemary was five years old.
The whole human and non-human animals as sisters was a bizarre premise to me when I read the synopsis. But author Karen Joy Fowler, best known for The Jane Austen Book Club, does a lovely job of creating typical American family dilemmas in this unusual family. I came away loving Rosemary, et al, as I would any family whose child had disappeared. I heartily recommend reading the soulful We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.