Excerpt from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler X
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2013, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2014, 320 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Excerpt
We are all completely beside ourselves

As part of leaving Bloomington for college and my brand new start, I'd made a careful decision to never ever tell anyone about my sister, Fern. Back in those college days I never spoke of her and seldom thought of her. If anyone asked about my family, I admitted to two parents, still married, and one brother, older, who traveled a lot. Not mentioning Fern was first a decision, and later a habit, hard and painful even now to break. Even now, way off in 2012, I can't abide someone else bringing her up. I have to ease into it. I have to choose my moment.

Though I was only five when she disappeared from my life, I do remember her. I remember her sharply — her smell and touch, scattered images of her face, her ears, her chin, her eyes. Her arms, her feet, her fingers. But I don't remember her fully, not the way Lowell does.

Lowell is my brother's real name. Our parents met at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona at a high school summer science camp. "I'd come to see the heavens," our father always said. "But the stars were in her eyes," a line that used to please and embarrass me in equal measure. Young geeks in love.

I would think better of myself now if, like Lowell, I'd been angry about Fern's disappearance, but it seemed too dangerous just then to be mad at our parents and I was frightened instead. There was also a part of me relieved, and powerfully, shamefully so, to be the one kept and not the one given away. Whenever I remember this, I try to also remember that I was only five years old. I'd like to be fair here, even to myself. It would be nice to get all the way to forgiveness, though I haven't managed it yet and don't know that I ever will. Or ever should.

Those weeks I spent with our grandparents in Indianapolis still serve as the most extreme demarcation in my life, my personal Rubicon. Before, I had a sister. After, none.

Before, the more I talked, the happier our parents seemed. After, they joined the rest of the world in asking me to be quiet. I finally became so. But not for quite some time and not because I was asked.

Before, my brother was part of the family. After, he was just killing time until he could be shed of us.

Before, many things that happened are missing in my memory or else stripped-down, condensed to their essentials like fairy tales. Once upon a time there was a house with an apple tree in the yard and a creek and a moon-eyed cat. After, for a period of several months, I seem to remember a lot and much of it with a suspiciously well-lit clarity. Take any memory from my early childhood and I can tell you instantly whether it happened while we still had Fern or after she'd gone. I can do this because I remember which me was there. The me with Fern or the me without? Two entirely different people.

Still, there are reasons for suspicion. I was only five. How is it possible that I remember, as I seem to, a handful of conversations word for word, the exact song on the radio, the particular clothes I was wearing? Why are there so many scenes I remember from impossible vantage points, so many things I picture from above, as if I'd climbed the curtains and was looking down on my family? And why is there one thing that I remember distinctly, living color and surround-sound, but believe with all my heart never occurred? Bookmark that thought. We'll come back to it later.

I remember often being told to be quiet, but I seldom remember what I was saying at the time. As I recount things, this lacuna may give you the erroneous impression that I already wasn't talking much. Please assume that I am talking continuously in all the scenes that follow until I tell you that I'm not.

Our parents, on the other hand, had shut their mouths and the rest of my childhood took place in that odd silence. They never reminisced about the time they had to drive halfway back to Indianapolis because I'd left Dexter Poindexter, my terry-cloth penguin (threadbare, ravaged by love – as who amongst us is not) in a gas station restroom, although they often talk about the time our friend Marjorie Weaver left her mother-in-law in the exact same place. Better story, I grant you.

  • 1
  • 2

Reprinted from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler with permission from Marian Wood/Putnam, a member of The Penguin Group Inc. Copyright © 2013.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Animal Rights and Activism

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    by Kristin Harmel
    Kristin Harmel's historical novel The Forest of Vanishing Stars was very well-received by our First ...
  • Book Jacket: African Europeans
    African Europeans
    by Olivette Otele
    The nexus of Africans and Europeans is not a recent historical development. Rather, the peoples of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Killing Hills
    The Killing Hills
    by Chris Offutt
    The personified hills of the novel's title foreshadow the mood of this brooding and ominous tale. ...
  • Book Jacket: The Vixen
    The Vixen
    by Francine Prose
    Recent Harvard graduate Simon Putnam has been rejected from grad school and has thus returned to his...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
All the Little Hopes
by Leah Weiss
A Southern story of friendship forged by books and bees, in the murky shadows of World War II.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    by Kristin Harmel

    An evocative coming-of-age World War II story from the author of The Book of Lost Names.

  • Book Jacket

    The Temple House Vanishing
    by Rachel Donohue

    A modern gothic page-turner set in a Victorian mansion in Ireland.

Win This Book!
Win Gordo

Gordo by Jaime Cortez

"Dark and hilarious ... singular and soaring ... Hands down, top debut of 2021."—Literary Hub

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

N Say N

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.