What We’re Reading: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Title: We Are All Completely beside Ourselves

Author: Karen Joy Fowler

Genre: literary fiction

Why did you choose to read this book?

It won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and received reviews that made it sound like I would enjoy it.

What did you like about it?

It was a pleasant read: engaging and not too long. It was easy to put down and pick up again where I left off. Told in the first person, the main character, Rosemary Cooke, is a good storyteller. She teases the reader with hints that she is leaving out some information and that some of what she says is her perspective and not necessarily fact.

The novel is not told sequentially and a recurring theme in the book is “starting in the middle” of a story. Fowler pieces together Rosemary’s life like a puzzle and the reader finally gets the whole picture at the end of the book.

Rosemary is a precocious child with an unusual upbringing; you’ll learn more about that in the book. Early in the story, as a college student, she is arrested although she is innocent of the minor crime. She and the sole perpetrator become sort-of friends and the whole ordeal sets off a tale of self-reflection. Something happens early in her life that she struggles to understand throughout the book. That event colors her decisions, self-perception and behavior throughout her life, as well as throughout the lives of her family members.

Did it remind you of any other book, or a movie?

It’s similar to some of the books I have read recently that portray the life of a family over time, however this one is told from only one character’s perspective.

Was there anything noteworthy about the book?

In addition to receiving the PEN/Faulkner Award, it was also short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

What feeling did the book leave you with?

Closure: satisfaction that the story had been told fully.

Who would you recommend the book to?

Fans of literary fiction (of course!), people interested in animal welfare, college students, researchers and children of researchers.

What would you pair this book with? (A food, drink, piece of clothing, time of day…anything) Examples: (I would pair the book Attachments with the songs Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega and No Scrubs by TLC to bring out that 1999 nostalgia.) OR (I would pair Dune with a glass of ice cold water because it makes me thirsty.) OR (I would pair The Martian with baked potatoes because, well, if you read it you know why.)

We Are All Completely beside Ourselves pairs well with other reading: on psychology and philosophy of what it means to be human. If you’re feeling a little less serious, it’s a good beach read because it has only a few characters and the plot isn’t too thick, plus there’s a good bit of mystery that is resolved in the end.

About Stephen Brooks

Stephen is a reference librarian at Durham Tech. He has blogged previously at acqweb.org and for American Libraries magazine online. He enjoys reading 20th and 21st century literature, biographies and books about sports.