We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Karen Joy Fowler. Putnam, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-16209-1
It’s worth the trouble to avoid spoilers, including the ones on the back cover, for Fowler’s marvelous new novel; let her introduce the troubled Cooke family before she springs the jaw-dropping surprise at the heart of the story. Youngest daughter Rosemary is a college student acting on dangerous impulses; her first connection with wild-child Harlow lands the two in jail. Rosemary and the FBI are both on the lookout for her brother Lowell, who ran away after their sister Fern vanished. Rosemary won’t say right away what it was that left their mother in a crippling depression and their psychology professor father a bitter drunk, but she has good reasons for keeping quiet; what happens to Fern is completely shattering, reshaping the life of every member of the family. In the end, when Rosemary’s mother tells her, “I wanted you to have an extraordinary life,” it feels like a fairy-tale curse. But Rosemary’s experience isn’t only heartbreak; it’s a fascinating basis for insight into memory, the mind, and human development. Even in her most broken moments, Rosemary knows she knows things that no one else can know about what it means to be a sister, and a human being. Fowler’s (The Jane Austen Book Club) great accomplishment is not just that she takes the standard story of a family and makes it larger, but that the new space she’s created demands exploration. Agent: Wendy Weil, the Wendy Weil Agency. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/22/2013
Release date: 05/30/2013
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