I read Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club several years ago and really liked it a lot, but I hadn’t thought to look up anything else by her. Several people had talked up We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and I saw the audiobook at my local library. Why not? I thought. So I let it unfold on me slowly, but I found it was a book that quickly gained my interest while I commuted to and from work.
Rosemary Cooke is our protagonist and narrator. As such, she frames our stories in several ways: when she is 22 and getting arrested in the UC-Davis cafeteria after a young woman disturbs the peace; when she is 5 and at her grandparents’ house, right when her sister Fern goes away; and then, in the present moment, when she is 38. Fern’s presence and disappearance is the fulcrum around which her family rotates and unravels. It is only when she becomes an adult that Rosemary fully understands what Fern’s loss means to the entire family and her own identity. And when she revisits several of her previous narratives and revises them more truthfully, we understand her process, too.
There is supposedly a “twist” related to Fern, but my audiobook cover spoiled it for me right away. It wasn’t until I wrote my brief blurb on Goodreads that I realized it was a twist. And honestly, knowing the twist right away actually made the reading process better for me—perhaps knowledge is power? Either way, I found the commentary on human behavior and science to be compelling, and the story holds powerful implications in the way it questions and indicts our behavior towards each other, the earth, and its creature inhabitants.