Monkey in the middle

Karen Joy Fowler’s PEN/Faulkner award-winning novel, “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” was the recent focus of a lively discussion of the library’s monthly fiction book group. The story is familiar: a family punctured by the loss of one of its members, resulting in each of their unraveling, but the cast of characters has one notable distinction. The sister/ daughter/ one that has vanished from the family portrait is a chimpanzee.

Rosemary, who was five when Fern was taken away, likes to tell stories by starting in the middle. It’s a quality that she developed thanks to her dad, who told her that she had a tendency to talk too much. It also lets Rose form a kinship with her audience from the get-go. Once they can relate, she can fill them in on the rest of the details. As a reader, and a storyteller, I get it. We’re busy people, aren’t we? Who wants to take up too much of anyone’s time? Jump on in, join us in the middle, and get carried away. Readers of Fowler’s story will do just that if they allow themselves, and when they’ve reached the end, they’ll find themselves questioning their relationships, animal testing, the lines we draw between humans and other animals, and the defining moments in our lives that shape who we become.

Honestly, while I was reading it, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the book. Flipping the pages, I felt at times that I just wanted to get to the end. What happened when I reached the final page was that I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks, and a flip of a flop in the pit of my stomach. Fowler may have started in the middle, but she definitely had me at the end.

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