We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
by Karen Joy Fowler
It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving too much away since a major piece of information is held back in the first part of the story. It does start in the middle, since Rosemary, a 22-year-old young woman, was told by her parents when she was younger to skip the beginning and start in the middle. She used to talk non-stop, until her sister, that she was so close to she considered her a twin sister, left. Not too long after that, her brother left. She hasn’t seen either one in many years. Around that time, she also quit talking so much because it was easier to get through life when people did not know much about her and couldn’t judge her. I had to keep reading to find what had happened to her sister and brother. I also had to know why she quit talking so much.
I enjoyed this book very much. It could be said that Rosemary is an unreliable narrator because she would explain what happened to her as a child, she wasn’t sure if it really happened how she remembered it or if she had filled in some gaps over the years with what she thought happened. I did not mind this because that is what memory is like. Is what you remember now, really how it happened? How can two or three people that were present remember what happened in different ways? It isn’t only perceptions that are different, but what we choose to remember and what we forget over the years and end up making up parts of the story to fill in those memory gaps.
I also really enjoyed that the narrator was in college in the early to mid-1990s, which is when I was in college so it was fun to read all the cultural references. It put me back into the headspace I was in when I was that age and then as the story moves along to current times to see how she matures and reaches the same age as I am while reading it. It isn’t often that happens while reading a book so it was a nice touch.
I do recommend that if you want to read this book then try not to read the back of the book flap like I did. It does give away some information about Rosemary’s sister. There is still much that is learned while reading it like why her sister went away and where she went, but I think it would be fun to actually learn the surprise in the second act of the book.
The way the book ends is heartbreaking. It is a really good ending. Many questions are answered and people are healed from anger they have felt over the years when they finally start talking to each other again. It ends on the only realistic note it could, but it is still quite sad.