We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
“She was my twin, my fun-house mirror, my whirlwind other half. It’s important to note that I was also all those thing to her.”
“What I found in books was daughters indulged and daughters oppressed, daughters who spoke loudly and daughters made silent. I found daughters imprisoned in towers, beaten and treated as servants, beloved daughters sent off to keep house for hideous monsters.”
“… there was a happy family – a mother, a father, a son, and two daughters.”
“Three children. One story. The only reason I’m the one telling it is because I’m the one not currently in a cage.”
Although these quotes are pulled directly, exactly from Karen Joy Fowler’s latest novel, I confess that I’ve chosen them rather out of context, on purpose; without leading you too astray, I’m complicit in being as unreliable a voice as Rosemary Cooke might be. You’ll thank me, really: Don’t go looking for further spoilers!
In Part One, Chapter One, Rosemary follows her father’s “Prologue” advice and begins in “the middle of [her] story” in 1996 when her family has “dwindled” to just her parents and herself. Her brother Lowell disappeared 10 years ago, her sister Fern 17 years prior. Moving back and forth in time, Rosie leads us through her life’s most pivotal moments of loss: at 5 when her twinship suddenly imploded, at not-quite-12 when Lowell ran away, at 22 when Lowell re-emerges with news of Fern, culminating in a family memoir Rosie will write two decades later – the very story we are privileged to read. Lest you think this is just another dysfunctional family epic, it’s NOT. But the less you know, the better your read. Trust me. At least about that …
Even after We Are All won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, I contrarily left it on the shelves. That changed when the Man Booker Prize longlist emerged last week – for the first time, Americans are eligible to win the coveted award – with four Yanks among this year’s baker’s dozen. No more avoidance excuses … Fowler is more than worthy of taking on her British cousins, in vocabulary (refulgent, ithyphallic!), language (learned, censored, lost, reclaimed), plot (unreliable narrators, soap operas, high drama, holy quest), meaning (betrayal, sins, abuse of power, environmental destruction), and always the unexpected (hangman, escaped rats, puppet theater, wannabe CIA recruits)!
Yes, the Booker made me start it. Orlagh Cassidy’s crisp narration kept me going. And Fowler shocked, entertained, educated, challenged, inspired me every track of the way.