Here’s my advice when it comes to Karen Joy Fowler’s fabulous We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, don’t read anything about it at all. Skip the jacket copy, the blurbs, every review, including this one, pick up the book, and start reading. The less you know the better the experience and trust me this is a book worthy of your time. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.
But if you insist on knowing more about it, I will tell you as much as I can without spoiling the delightful reveal that comes roughly 1/3 through the book. First, you should know that this is not some kind of bullshitty coy reveal. When this information comes it feels genuine to both the story and our main character, Rosemary Cooke, who is fumbling her way through college in the mid-90s far away from where she grew up in Indiana.
Rosemary is pretty ashamed of her family. Or maybe not so much ashamed as she is just not wanting to talk about them. See, something shady went on when Rosemary was five. She was sent to live with her grandparents for awhile and when she returned her mother has taken to her bed in a bout of depression, her brother is filled with rage, and her sister Fern is sent away never to return.
When Rosemary is about eleven her brother Lowell disappears. Rosemary goes from having siblings to being an only child. This doesn’t bode well for her and she struggles for most of her life to make friends.
So Rosie starts her story in the middle that semester of bumbling through college, and the strange friend she makes, Harlow, and how hard it is to go back home for the holidays to her psychology professor dad who drinks to much and her mom, who has flaked on her before. She unspools her story slowly, bringing us back to when her family fell apart, and even further when they lived in a giant farmhouse surrounded by land and things were idyllic.
This is a story about loss and the tricks our memories play on us, about family and how we define that. This is a story that I loved. Every page. Every paragraph. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s so good that when I told my friend Kelly I was reading it she swooned a little and said, “It’s so good, I should probably re-read it again.”