WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler
Kirkus Star

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES

KIRKUS REVIEW

What is the boundary between human and animal beings and what happens when that boundary is blurred are two of many questions raised in Fowler’s provocative sixth novel (The Jane Austen Book Club, 2004, etc.), the narration of a young woman grieving over her lost sister, who happens to be a chimpanzee.

Rosemary recounts her family history at first haltingly and then with increasingly articulate passion. In 1996, she is a troubled student at U.C. Davis who rarely speaks out loud. She thinks as little as possible about her childhood and the two siblings no longer part of her family. But during a Thanksgiving visit home to Bloomington, Ind., where her father is a psychology professor, that past resurfaces. Rosemary recalls her distress as a 5-year-old when she returned from visiting her grandparents to find her family living in a new house and her sister Fern gone. Denying any memory of why Fern disappeared, she claims to remember only the aftermath: her mother’s breakdown; her father’s withdrawal; her older brother Lowell’s accelerating anger until he left the family at 18 to find Fern and become an animal rights activist/terrorist; her own continuing inability to fit in with human peers. Gradually, Rosemary acknowledges an idyllic earlier childhood when she and Fern were inseparable playmates on a farm, their intact family shared with psych grad students. By waiting to clarify that Fern was a chimpanzee, Rosemary challenges readers to rethink concepts of kinship and selfhood; for Rosemary and Lowell, Fern was and will always be a sister, not an experiment in raising a chimpanzee with human children. And when, after 10 years of silence, Lowell shows up in Davis to describe Fern’s current living conditions, he shakes free more memories for Rosemary of her sibling relationship with Fern, the superior twin she loved, envied and sometimes resented. Readers will forgive Fowler’s occasional didacticism about animal experimentation since Rosemary’s voice—vulnerable, angry, shockingly honest—is so compelling and the cast of characters, including Fern, irresistible.

A fantastic novel: technically and intellectually complex, while emotionally gripping.

Pub Date: May 30th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-399-16209-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2013




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