November 18, 2013

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

I adored WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES by Karen Joy Fowler, and I think you should read it. I can tell you why I loved it, but I can't tell you what it's really about, as I'll explain.

The novel is narrated by Rosemary, who is funny, sarcastic, thoughtful, and well aware that she has spent much of her life being too clever for her own good. If you like stories with strong and wonderful narrative voices, that alone should sell you on this book. I would be happy to read along while Rosemary told me anything.

She takes her father's storytelling advice to "Skip the beginning. Start in the middle" so she starts the story with an incident in college that brought a new friend, and chaos, into her life. But it's the beginning of Rosemary's life that sets her apart, and though she soon offers some glimpses into her childhood, it takes a while until she really starts opening up about the truth of her family. The disjointed chronology of the narrative is used to good effect, and I enjoyed the way the story takes on the unreliable nature of memory.

At the core, this is a family story, and it's one with a secret, but not any of the family secrets you've read about before. I hope that will intrigue you enough to dive in without learning anything else. When I began reading, I already knew the book's big secret, and I think it would have been cooler to have the unspoiled reading experience. On the other hand, one reason I picked up the book was that the premise was so enticing, and I haven't told you what it is yet. So I'll understand if you need more convincing. You can find plenty of other enthusiastic reviews that reveal information the author holds back until one-quarter of the way through the book, and I won't blame you if you want to look those up. But my recommendation is that you simply start reading WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES immediately.

When I attended the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop this summer, one of the highlights was the time I spent with Karen Joy Fowler, who is wonderful as both a teacher and a dinner companion. This is the first of her books that I've read, and I'm eager to read all the varied others.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ S. Bear Bergman examines expectations about writerly lives and reflects on doing it wrong: "When prompted to account for my time as a writer I typically balk, mumble, and change the subject in order to avoid talking frankly about the bare and worrisome facts: I do not keep a journal of any sort, unless you count tweeting. I do not write first thing in the morning, dipping my handmade pen into the fresh well of my settled thoughts -- I am dragged to wakefulness most days by a three-year-old who wakes up like he was shot out of a cannon, and his morning requirements stir that well pretty good."


Anonymous said...

Oh for goodness sake. I popped over to amazon to check out We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and discovered that the first line of the description contains (I presume) a spoiler. And if that assumption is correct, the paperback book jacket is flirting with spoilerhood, too.

However, one of the joys of keeping a "books people reccomended that I should get around to reading sometime" list is that by the time I actually do get around to it, I may well have forgotten what on earth it was and why I wanted to read it, so possibly I will be retroactively unspoiled. Though having this conversation makes that somewhat less likely.

[Desiree Armfeldt; LiveJournal seems to be fried at the so I can't get it to give my credentials...]

Lisa Eckstein said...

Unfortunately, it seems that even the publisher was uncertain how to market the book without discussing the spoiler, so it's revealed in much of the promotional material, which is a shame.

Fortunately, it's still a wonderful book even if you know the secret, and being spoiled means you get to enjoy noticing the hints in the first quarter, which is a different fun experience.

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