We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

by Karen Joy Fowler
4.2 60


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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

“A gripping, bighearted book.” —Khaled Hosseini

Winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award

One of the New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2013 and named by The Christian Science Monitor as one of the top 15 works of fiction

The New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club introduces a middle-class American family, ordinary in every way but one.
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she explains. “I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion … she was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half and I loved her as a sister.” As a child, Rosemary never stopped talking. Then, something happened, and Rosemary wrapped herself in silence.

In We Are All Completely beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler weaves her most accomplished work to date—a tale of loving but fallible people whose well-intentioned actions lead to heartbreaking consequences.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142180822
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/25/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 41,498
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Karen Joy Fowler is the award-winning author of four story collections and five previous novels. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.


Davis, California

Date of Birth:

February 7, 1950

Place of Birth:

Bloomington, Indiana


B.A., The University of California, Berkeley, 1972; M.A., The University of California, Davis, 1974

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We Are All Completely beside Ourselves: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is definitely a quirky book, but I liked it a lot. I though the plot moved smoothly, The characters are all richly drawn. I really recommend this book as an entertaining piece of literature. A nice follow up to the Jane Austen Book Club.
Book-touched More than 1 year ago
Fowler tells such a believable story about two sisters one human, one chimpanzee raised together since birth that at times I forgot it was fiction. There are images of one heart wrenching segment burned into my mind that I will not soon forget. As a psychology major I had long forgotten reading about this research, then I read it dispassionately at a safe clinical distance. Now, Fowler's book deals with the same subject yet grabbed hold of my emotions and would not let go. So much food for thought here family dysfunction, insecurity, love, ethics, pros/cons of animal research of course, but other questions as well, for example, how can we as adults sort out trauma we experienced as a child? Think about it! Admittedly, some of the philosophical discussion was beyond me, but this book has so much more to offer. Give it a try!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First if all I liked it. But I am a biologist. But it is a clever twist on the dysfunctional family theme and also a thesis giving more wind to the halting of animal testing especially on primates. It is like an Uncle Tom's Cabin for Primates. There were some preachy parts, yes, but acceptable since Rosemary had to work through all this herself and she did strive to be very transparent. I loved the references to real live case studies on chimps and the synopsis of their research conclusions. But I also loved the quirkiness of the story. I have to think on this one for a few more days before I move on to a new book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cannot-put-the-book-down plot. Characters so real their pulse became my pulse.  Writing that drew me into its intricate web one shimmering strand at a time.  A dazzling exploration using psychology, philosophy, and science to probe the shadowy workings of the brain, the nerve-triggered organism of family  and, ultimately, the mysterious place that connects us all.             
L875 More than 1 year ago
Great novels for me are all about character development and the character development in this story was amazing. It was a very original book to me. It was original in both subject matter and the way the story was told. The main character described it as "starting in the middle". This could have been confusing but it was handled beautifully and totally enhanced the story. I also loved the way the different perspectives were handled. Sometimes the main character would come out and tell you something like, "this is what I didn't tell you" and reveal a part that is important to our understanding of the story but, although noteworthy, would not have been overly important to the character in that moment. Other times you see it in the conversations she has with others. The subject matter explores all of the complexities that subjects like animal treatment have. It is pro-animal, definitely, but it doesn't over-simplify. I was completely taken with the main character. I love the way she describes things, I love her sense of humor and her insights. Without giving anything at all away she did say, "When I run the world, librarians will be exempt from tragedy. Even their smaller sorrows will last for only as long as you can take out a book" and I work in a library and all so...... Thank you to Good Reads for the copy of this book!
The_Alternative More than 1 year ago
We are all completely beside ourselves  Karen Joy Fowler  Trade Paperback  Publisher: A Marian Wood Book/Putnam  Publication Date: May 30, 2013  ISBN-13: 978-0399162091  320 pages  Uncorrected Proof - Advance Reader’s Copy      Karen Joy Fowler writes some of the oddest fiction I’ve ever read. And when I say odd I mean brilliant in a slanted, quirky way. When she writes a nostalgic scene you will think of your childhood home, your grandparents, and those you loved, laughed, and played with when you were growing up. When she wants you to laugh at yourself or teases your sensibilities you will find the humor hidden in all the little crevices of humanity. When she holds up the mirror of sentiment and emotion you will see yourself in her story.      We are all completely beside ourselves is a story of love, family, devotion, separation, and the dichotomy of life and the biased memories we make in our own minds concerning our pasts. But more than that it’s a story of social interaction and how we act, react, and interact through emotionally stressful and confusing times.      One undeserved criticism Fowler sometimes receives is that her characters are unfinished, furtive, and difficult to connect to. Many of her characters are mysteriously, and I think, intentionally, incomplete and here’s why I think it’s the perfect approach to creating a superior character, especially in the emotionally-driven narratives Fowler creates. Humans are enigmatic and unknown even to themselves sometimes. We are flawed, we are duplicitous, and we are opinionated and often change our attitudes. We occasionally don’t know our own minds or the real reasons we say or act the way we do. We are hurtful yet full of kindness. We are truthful but lie to preserve our own slanted images of ourselves and we confuse emotions with obsessions. Karen Joy Fowler’s characters then, mirror the gaps and holes in us all. In essence she writes enormously realistic characters that remind us of our own strengths, failings, assets, and ambiguities. Simply put, she writes convincing characters as compassionate, flawed, emotional human beings.      This is the second novel by Karen Joy Fowler I’ve reviewed. I gave the first, Sarah Canary, a high overall review rating for originality, style, and content. We are all completely beside ourselves is no less creative than Sarah Canary and is, in my opinion, a superior read well worth the time.      File with: mysteries, animal rights, emotionally-driven narratives, the human condition, love, loneliness, and social interaction. 4 ½ out of 5 Stars The Alternative  Southeast Wisconsin
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a must read novel! It’s one of the most intriguing books I have ever read! If you’re an animal lover or not, you should still read this! It’s a roller-coaster emotional ride, about twin sister who aren’t actually biologically related. How is that possible, well one of the twins is actually a female chimpanzee who is named Fern and the narrator is Rosemary. The novel begins when both Fern and Rosemary are used for a psychological experiment and they build a strong connection. However, after the experimented ended, Fern was sent off and Rosemary as well as her family couldn’t scope with the loss of Fern. Evidently, Fern was psychologically affected and has been trying to cope with it. She couldn’t ever replace that void in her life. In addition, her family was impacted and Rosemary’s brother became an outlaw. She begins her journey in the University of California Davis and she meets someone who strangely enough, gives her a sense of similar closeness as what Fern omitted to her. It’s a beautiful novel of realizing the animal within ourselves and the hunger for belonging to someone or something. The ending is cliff hanger, and maybe you’ll cry. I am infatuated with the themes behind this novel! You’ll find yourself asking questions about yourself, revaluating your relationships and reflecting on family! After reading the book, I was in a bliss moment reflecting with these animals because we can relate more to them as we are animals too! They are one with us and this novel surely depicts that!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was given the assignment of reading this novel in one of my electives and found it very enjoyable. It went well hand in hand with the topic of the class which was relations of humans with animals. The story follows Rosemary and her family, along with their life with the lovable Fern, the chimpanzee. The storytelling is very enjoyable and it feels like the author is having a conversation with their reader. One of the main topics of the book was the experiment of teaching Fern human language and communication. "Language is more than just words, he said. Language is also the order of words and the way one word inflects another" (98). This was one of my favorite quotes because it relates to Fern's main purpose of joining Rosemary's family. Language does not always have to mean words and sentences, but it also includes how one uses it and how words compliment each other. This was how Fern was able to live and communicate with their family. Besides that, the novel itself was very relatable since it delved into real life issues that teens go through, such as going to college, dealing with family issues, and growing up essentially. One of the biggest themes of the novel was family and I believe that Fern was a huge part of Rosemary's family. They were like sisters, growing up alongside each other. It was nice having the story being told from Rosemary's point of view since she was the character who had to experience the most in the novel also. Overall, I liked this read and do recommend it to anyone else who finds an interest in human and animal culture/relations.
Joyce Tse More than 1 year ago
What an excellent novel! I felt a large range of feelings as I read this book. Having studied a little about chimpanzee-human and cross-species studies in a Humanities class regarding animals and humans in the society, I felt the need to discuss the phenomenal feelings and connections that struck me. The more I read this novel, the harder it was to stop. The book peaked my curiosity about laboratory animals used for study. I frequently wonder whether it was inhumane to run tests on the creatures, or rather be tested on other humans. This is the fundamental confliction that drove the plot of this book. The characters were well developed, and I especially loved the way Fowler decided to have the narrator being telling her story from the middle. This added more suspense and kept me on my toes as I was reading. In addition, being from Davis, California and attending the University myself, there were multiple scenes where I was able to imagine myself as the narrator Rosemary. The relationship between Fern, the chimpanzee of the study, and Rosie and also Lowell was deep and strong. Knowing this will give you a lot of faith in the characters’ actions. I was absolutely hooked because of the ranges of emotions that hit me by surprise. This novel covered many different aspects, including ethics, psychology, hate, and at the heart of the novel, love. This is not exactly a love story, but one that builds off the relationship of characters. There was enough push and pull, and various actions that made me reconsider and analyze my inner thoughts. I have never been so fascinated about a cross-species study than I have after learning about the different interactions between Fern and the Cooke siblings. This is a beautiful book, but definitely be prepared and strap up for an emotional roller coaster!
JacobLey More than 1 year ago
“Once upon a time there was a family with two daughters, and a mother and father who’d promised to love them both exactly the same.” “We Are Completely Beside Ourselves” is a novel that describes a very ordinary American family living a very ordinary life in Indiana, except for one unique detail. The narrator, Rosemary, has struggled to fit in and cope after the loss of her sister Fern. This novel questions the meaning of family by implementing the addition of a chimpanzee, Fern, to a completely normal and average family. Reading this novel makes you think about how much a family can change with the loss of one of its members. Rosemary loved Fern as a sister and grew up considering her to be her twin. What was meant to be a scientific experiment ends up shaping Rosemary and her family’s life permanently as their whole world changes when Fern is removed from the family equation. This experiment blurs the lines between human connection and animal connection by altering the dynamics of a traditional family. The pain Rosemary feels after the removal of Fern from her life shows the importance that animals can have in a family. The father is painted in a way that criticizes the cold nature of the scientific world as he subjects his family to an experiment that leads to irreparable emotional damage. It battles emotions and intellect as this family’s love of Fern is reduced to lab charts and research and the family. This novel is creatively thought provoking and subtle yet strong in it’s analysis of how events in our life shape us forever.
HUM4 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading Karen Fowler’s, We Are Completely Beside Ourselves because it was somewhat similar to Nim’s project. In Nim’s project I was able to grasp how Nim was learning sign language and creating his own sign language. In the novel they had a baby chimp, Fern grew up with Rose their early months-toddler age range. What I found interesting was that Rose grew this tight bond with Fern that kept them inseparable. As part of the research project the main purpose of it was to have Fern grow up with a human being the first learning stages of language and movement. Unfortunately, as Fern got older she started to become more aggressive and would hurt others unintentionally, which became a problem to Rose’s family. By all means Rose’s family already had dysfunctional issues. When they decided to send Fern away from the hospital it was hard for Rose to adapt without being around. For instance, when she first started kindergarten she would sniff the students who approached her, just how Fern or any other primate what do when they’d meet or see someone/something that was unfamiliar to them. This research project indeed did bring a lot answers on the comparison between a child’s development and an animal’s development. It stood out to me how Rose considered Fern as her sister even though they were separated at young ages. It was also mentioned that Rose moved next to Fern. I’m sensing that they had a sisterly twin bond that would always keep close to each other, despite the time that they were apart from each other.
NancyVang More than 1 year ago
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Folwer was an interesting book to read. The book is written through the eyes of Rosemary, a college student attending UC Davis, who I can describe as quiet and keeps to herself. Throughout the book, Rosemary talks about her family and her experiences, so there’s a lot of flashbacks that happens throughout the book. She talks about her “sister” that she had, which later she revealed was a chimpanzee named Fern. I found interesting that Fowler was about to illustrate Fern as if it was human and not a chimpanzee through the eyes of Rosemary. She was able to illustrate the emotions and reality of raising an animal along with a child as an experiment and see the impact it has on both sides. Rosemary talks about growing up with this chimp, reflecting on the things that they experienced together and the things she had to go through as a way to compete with Fern and the life after the experiment. This book was filled with emotions, and it was able to show the readers the feeling as if they are the main character, going through every childhood experience of Rosemary’s. Overall, Fowler did a good job with this book, it was filled with emotions till the last page. It showing how alike we are to chimpanzees and how different as in the way we grow up. I would recommend anyone to read this, especially if they’re interested in animals and humans relations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did really enjoy this book and the utter sophistication of it, however I did not like how it began with such choppy sentence structure. It was slightly somewhat annoying to me to read and to stay involved with the text. Also some of her vocabulary that she used was a little more difficult to comprehend and I found myself having to grab a dictionary and look up some words more than I would have liked. (This aspect in itself is not completely a bad thing though because it does greatly improve my vocabulary, but it was a lot of new terms at once.) One of the things that I did really like about this book though was all of the details that she put into it. I really liked when she talked about what Fern being taken away did to Rosemary and how badly she reacted to the situation. When she put in all of the details of everything that Rosemary and Fern did together and how badly it affected Rosemary when Fern left the family; how she described it as feeling like the loss of a twin. Another thing that I enjoyed about this book was that it was able to bring a tear to my eye more times than once. It’s not that I enjoy crying or anything like that, it’s just that I like the fact that I was able to get that involved with the book that I was able to almost feel what the character felt. Over all this was a really enjoyable book to read and I would recommend this book to anyone who has the capability of reading it.
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MWgal More than 1 year ago
Surprisingly good read. Sometimes stories of dysfunctional families gets tiresome, but this book stayed on subject and kept the painful parts light with some good, subtle humor thrown in for balance. Really liked it.
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Loved it
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I started out knowing this was a work of fiction, but as I got deeper into it I began to have doubts. It read like a well researched report of a woman who had had a very strange childhood. The reactions of the family members were very real and they all had good reasons for reacting the way they did. The parts of the story that took place "off stage" didn't bother me at all. I wanted to have a post read discussion with the author to find out what happened since the end of the story we are told.
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