We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013, 310 pages)
Our narrator, Rosemary Cooke, starts her story in the middle when she’s a Junior (or Senior?) in college at U.C. Davis during the mid-90s. Rosemary spent the first half of her life defined by her sister, Fern. Then Fern left Rosemary’s life, and shortly after that so did her older brother Lowell. The reason Rosemary’s life was defined by Fern was because Fern was a chimpanzee being raised as a human in the Cooke family. Rosemary and Fern were essentially twins. The Cooke family patriarch was a psychology professor and he is the reason the family was able to procure Fern. So while she was being raised as a human she and Rosemary were also constantly being observed and analyzed.
Fern’s disappearance from 6 year-old Rosemary’s life was incredibly traumatic for both of them. Starting the story in the middle we see how Rosemary learns the truth about Fern and tries to reconcile what she thought she knew with what the reality of the situation is. Her brother, Lowell, is wanted by the FBI for incidents related to the Animal Liberation Front. Her parents haven’t been the same since Fern and Lowell left the house… This is a touching story about family, loss,and love. Parts of it were hard to listen to and it certainly makes you think about the ethics of animal treatment/experimentation.
I enjoyed this book and the narrator did a great job bringing Fowler’s words to life. The title was named a “Best of 2013” book in a number of publications including: The New York Times Book Review, The Christian Science Monitor, and Library Journal.