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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

What if for the first five years of your life you were raised with a chimp as your twin sister, only to have her taken away? That's the emotionally fraught premise of this absorbing and disconcerting novel. Though it moves around in time, the story flows in a seamless riveting stream as told by Rosemary, the sometimes flippant first person narrator.


Each family member reacts differently: the mother is incapacitated by despair, the academic father whose experiment this was is defensive, the brother becomes a fugitive animal rights activist, and Rosemary--the "twin" of her chimp sister Fern--has some difficulties negotiating the world as a human. Called "monkey girl" by her kindergarten classmates, she has absorbed too many chimp tendencies and mannerisms, like fingering people's hair, to seem completely normal. At first she is afraid that she too will be sent away from her family; later she has difficulties becoming close to anyone since she works hard to keep her past a secret. It's a past she only gradually uncovers because her memories of childhood are mutable and confusing.


The idea of raising a chimp in a human family is based on real experiments that often had heartbreaking results for both the chimps, who end up not fitting into either world, and the people who love them. Fowler has managed to weave in facts and musings about animal cognition, emotions, and rights in ways that enhance and deepen the story rather than drag it down in a didactive agenda. It's a layered story; Rosemary is feels love but also sibling rivalry for Fern. The characters--human and chimp--and their emotions are thoroughly imagined and multidimensional.