We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

cover“Skip the beginning. Start in the middle,” is the advice our talkative narrator recieves from her father as a child. So she does. She starts her story from the middle, in part because the beginning is just too painful. In part, because we’ve only just met, and Rosemary doesn’t usually tell strangers about her family.

The not-beginning of this story starts as Rosemary goes to college in California. Trying to get as far away from her weird family as possible, she heads to college in the last place her estranged brother (now wanted by the FBI for crimes committed in the name of the Animal Rights Movement) was seen. He isn’t the first sibling she’s lost. Her twin, Fern, is also gone. And Rosemary is vaguely aware that it’s her fault, though she can’t quite recall what she did.

Fowler’s story is funny and heartbreaking. Every page is filled with beautiful prose. She explores the breakdown of a family that has been torn apart by grief. Rosemary’s father, a now disgraced psychologist, takes to drinking. Her mother is broken by the actual loss of one child, and the effective loss of another. Rosemary is left behind, trying to work out who she is without her sister.

The controversial identity of Rosemary’s sister – the secret she is so desperate to keep – is only revealed a third of the way through. It is deftly done, and forces you to confront the same assumptions about family that Rosemary has dealt with her entire life. It’s a story about sameness and difference. It’s about how we know each other. It’s about what constitutes a family.

Read it with a box of tissues, because never will a story about one sister giving another a red poker chip cause you so many tears.

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