Monday, December 2, 2013

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Putnam, 2013).

Here's why a good title is important. I like the title of this book so much that I picked it right up when I saw it. A few days later, eyes watering up and a lower lip bravely trembling, I was very glad that I did.

Don't read anything else about this book beyond what I am about to say. The publishers have, sensibly, not given away a very critical plot point - although every Tom, Dick, and Harry on Amazon did so in their user reviews - although they did, shamefully, blow an equally critical one on the inside front of the dust jacket. I generally don't look at either reviews or the publisher's PR until after I have finished the book, but my eyes slipped about a third of the way through Karen Joy Fowler's 300-page novel and got an unwelcome clue about the missing brother of our narrator, a college girl at UC Davis named Rosemary.

Well, I say that she's a college girl, and she is for a time. It's a very interesting structure. Her story is written taking some of her mother's advice. To save time, she starts in the middle of the story, and that's when she meets up with her brother, who ran away from home ten years previously. Her sister has been missing for an additional five. This is a story of a really unhappy family, with two missing siblings, and how Rosemary's really unusual upbringing has messed with her ability to interact with people her age.

There are revelations about Rosemary's sister and her disappearance, and slightly less shocking revelations about her brother, but even more shocking revelations about his choice to disappear, and it builds very sadly and, occasionally, with quite a sweet comic turn. The structure works really, really well. By focusing on the middle of the story, and almost rushing through the end, we don't have the chance for the later revelations to linger too long, but at the same time, the effect is to make the quickly-referenced later material even sadder. This book broke my heart. Strongly recommended.

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