Friday, August 16, 2013

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Folwer

The About: Our narrator is Rosemary, the girl who was always talking: first babbling as a kid with her parents asking her to skip to the end and later, choosing artfully topics to talk meaninglessly about to steer clear from anything inconvenient and personal. That would be the two topics she does not want anyone new in her life to know about--her sister Fern who disappeared when Rosemary was young, and his brother who consequently ran away and never came back, leaving Rosemary and her parents to grieve for two. Rose's voice comes back when she starts to piece her childhood back together.

The Thoughts:

It is impossible to write about this lovely book without spoiling something that, according to my Kindle, happens about 40% into the book and then takes over the remaining 60%. Apparently it's revealed by the publisher blurb on the back of the book so... don't read it!

Any generic description on the other hand seems really contrived and I would probably not read a story based on what I just wrote above in the About. This is about a family, where... No. It's about sisters and sibling rival-- Ugh, not that, either. What does it mean to be a human... No no. In a world, where... Heck no.


In this story, sisters, brothers, and friends are not what they seem. Our narrator--or the narrator in times she talks about--is a confused young woman, whose voice we might not even want to trust.

Have I already said a million times how my favorite narrator is the rare unreliable narrator?

The story is grippingly sad, and what made it personally worse for me was that I had read the nonfiction books about similar cases that this fictional family encounters and which Rose quotes--and I loved those books. Even stranger, my favorite story from Karen Joy Fowler ever is a short story called "Faded Roses," and... if you know that story, and you have read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, you will now go, "Ahaaaaaaaaa, I get the connection." (And no, it's not the word "Rose"). It was just really weird to see Fowler's story unfold when I had read so much of what seemed to amount to source material for this.

When I first got the book, the title seemed silly to me. Something that David Eggers might ironically write. After reading the story, though, it changed its meaning without anybody really pointing out what the intention of the title is. It is a great title, and the best title to describe this story.

The story is great, and I had a hard time putting it down.

Stylistically, everything is in place. You can tell that Fowler is a long-time short story writer: her paragraphs are snappy, and I can just imagine the pain of cutting away fat that would pass as good writing but is not relevant to a Very Well Written Paragraph. There is nothing that is too much or too little. With some of the sentences I had to stop and reread them, just because they were so damned good.

Someone, please read this book and come talk with me about it.

EDIT: Usually I do not quote reviewers here, but these two do a better job than I could. (from

“This unforgettable novel is a dark and beautiful journey into the heart of a family, an exploration of the meanings of memory, a study of what it means to be ‘human.’ In the end the book doesn’t just break your heart; it takes your heart and won’t give it back.”
—Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply and Stay Awake
“It really is impossible to do justice here in a blurb. This is a funny, stingingly smart, and heartbreaking book. Among other things, it’s about love, family, loss, and secrets; the acquisition and the loss of language. It’s also about two sisters, Rosemary and Fern, who are unlike any other sisters you’ve ever met before.”
—Kelly Link, author of Stranger Things Happen and Pretty Monsters