We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Karen Joy Fowler, 2013 Penguin Audio

What an original, disturbing, complex novel. This author might be a genius.

The title, which sounds casual and feel-good funny, snagged me into spending an Audible credit on this audiobook. I was introduced to the world of Rosemary Cook, her imaginary friend Mary who happens to be a chimpanzee, her brother Lowell, and her sister Fern who disappeared when she was younger. Rosemary starts her story in the middle, as she has been urged to do since childhood (by adults worn down with her incessant chatter), and that’s a good place to start. We are pulled along as Rosemary first navigates college and family, then later (or earlier) takes us back to her childhood homes. It’s here we learn the secret of Fern, but we really don’t know the impact that Fern has had on her family until Rosemary gathers us together at the end of the book to wrap everything up.

Fern’s disappearance broke Lowell, damaged Rosemary, and shattered their mother in ways 99.9% of us could never understand – I promise you. As she faces long-buried memories, Rosemary, along with her mother, finally learns how to make peace with the heartbreaking regret.

Be warned – there are some graphic descriptions of animals tortured in the name of research. The narrative is short but tough, and necessary to the story, which won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Orlagh Cassidy narrates beautifully, giving voice to emotion so overwhelming that it can only be spoken in a calm and measured tone.