Friday, October 24, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (by Karen Joy Fowler)

This novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and I've had it on my radar for a while. When I was looking for a novel to read on my recent business trip, I decided to take a chance on this one. (I always indulge in novel-buying when I travel. Formerly this was a $16 book purchased in an airport gift shop, now it's "Buy With One Click!" on my Kindle or Kobo app.)

This book is excellent--gripping and thought-provoking, with a fabulous protagonist. It's narrated by Rosemary, who paints a realistic portrait of a dysfunctional family. She had two siblings, we are told, but as the book opens ("in the middle" of the story as Rosemary says) they are both missing. Rosemary is clearly somewhat broken and not fully reliable, which she admits in several meditations on the nature of memory and truth. But I really enjoyed her as a character.

The plot is page-turning, even though (or maybe because) it's related out of order, with several jumps in time. I had to keep going until I was done to find out what became of everyone. It wasn't until the book's final quarter that I started to be bothered by some flaws: it gets a bit didactic towards the end on the subjects of politics and animal experimentation. ("Corporations are people, but animals aren't!") I bought that Rosemary would feel this way, but the way it's presented didn't feel organic. There are also some developments at the end that seem unlikely and somewhat unbelievable, perhaps because the dots aren't quite fully connected there. But I'm being vague so as to not spoil anything.

Speaking of vague, it's hard to discuss this book without revealing the big secret as to why the narrator's sister Fern has disappeared. I also need to mention somewhat of a trigger warning in that Bad Things Happen to Animals. This is something I actually can't stand, in general, and I think at one point I'd heard about the Bad Things and decided to avoid the book. I had forgotten, however, and the novel sucked me in with the wonderful writing and propulsive plot and I couldn't have put it down even if I'd wanted to. I'm still very glad I read it, because it's remarkable. Worthy of the accolades it's gotten, for sure.



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