Bite-Sized Book Review: "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler

November 29, 2013

I first picked up this book from a recommendation by Ann Patchett in The Week. Patchett is an accomplished and popular author as well as a bookseller, so she knows her stuff. The recommendation she wrote was mysterious and raving: that everyone she sold it to loved it, and there was nothing else like it. I'm a sucker for unique things: I love encountering something that I can walk away from saying "I've never seen/heard/read something like that before." So I downloaded it on Audible right away and pressed play.


I know there is something inherently lost in listening to literature instead of reading it in it's inteded page-bound form. And with this particular book, I might just have to read it again on paper: it was that remarkable. But I also greatly enjoy walking my pup through the Twin Peaks neighborhood in San Francisco, watching the parrots of Telegraph Hill swarm above (they're up here this time of year) and being swept away by someone telling me an amazing story.


"We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" lives up to Patchett's hype. It is indeed unlike anything I have ever read. Fowler manages to string the reader along in a pretty confused state for a good part of the book, but keeps you just below the threshold of saying "I don't know what the hell is going on here, I'm done." But then there's a big reveal. And she executes this reveal better than any other author I have read in recent memory. Rosemary, the narrator, apologizes directly to the reader for withholding a certain piece of information, and suddenly so many things make sense. It doesn't feel like a trick or a gimmick, just a stealthily executed literary sleight of hand that is truly necessary to make the book as memorable as it is. It's a craft lesson for any writer and a pleasure for any reader.

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