Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is wonderful to read, but very hard to review. The narrator, Rosemary – yes, the name was what originally attracted me to the book, and I’m glad it did – a college student in 1990s California, playfully twists her narrative so readers are never standing on firm ground. She’ll describe a scene then tell us that she omitted a crucial detail, or admit to withholding information. “Language is also the order of words,” her psychologist father says, and the non-linear order in which she arranges the events of her story is as crucial as the events themselves.
In a rare moment of apparent directness near the novel’s beginning, she tells the reader “ten years had passed since I’d last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared.” The mix of witty cynicism and quiet sadness in Rosemary’s narrative voice, which lovers of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars will appreciate, makes the tricksy narrative beguiling rather than frustrating. However, it conceals the crucial information about the nature of her family and why her siblings disappeared, whose eventual uncovering changes the book so fundamentally that it makes in-depth discussion of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves hard to do without spoilers. But I will avoid revealing the delightfully unexpected twist, to allow readers to experience it as a complete surprise.