We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

completely beside ourselves

As Rosemary is looking back and recounting the story of her childhood, she tells of her sister being taken away and her brother later running away of his own accord – and we feel the trauma in her heart right from the start.  What we don’t hear until later, however, is that Rosemary’s “sister” is a chimpanzee named Fern, and her brother has been traumatized by the way in which he perceived Fern has been treated by their parents.  Rosemary and Fern have been the subjects of psychological studies, conducted by Rosemary’s father and a team of graduate students, who have examined the learning capabilities of chimps in terms of language and behavior compared to humans.  What they fail to study and to take into account, is the long-term consequences that this will have on Rosemary, Fern and on Rosemary’s brother, Lowell, that last the rest of their complicated lives.

This story is extremely interesting, but it is told in an unfortunately fragmented way, starting “in the middle” as the author says more than once, which may have not been the best strategy, as it happens.  There are many skips and recalls, many memories and pieces.  Often this works in books, but here it feels like only that – like skips and pieces.  The whole picture becomes sacrificed in some way, and the story line is somewhat blurred.

On the whole, however, it is a unique idea for a novel and it does hold one’s attention.  It is fascinating to contemplate the idea of a girl and a chimp growing up as twins, but there are innumerable and predictable obstacles that would clearly preclude anyone in their right mind from actually doing this to a real child – one would at least hope!

I’d love to hear what others think about this one!

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