Monday, June 8, 2015

Being "Completely Beside" Myself

"Language does this to our memories - simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the  moment it was meant to capture."
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Happy summer, Furious Readers! It has been some time since we last met, but I figured the best way to reappear is to share a book that I can't really discuss with you. Doesn't that sound exciting? Please don't take it personally; I really, REALLY think you will enjoy this one.

Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a heartbreaking, dark, fragmented look into the bonds of sisterhood and family trauma. We know something is wrong with protagonist Rosemary, but we can't quite put our finger on it. Rosemary begins her narrative with the declaration that, as a child, she loved to talk - so much so that she was a bother to her family. But now, as an adult, she doesn't say much. This is common among those who have experienced trauma and it is with this confession of silence that Rosemary takes us along into the labyrinth of her family's history. Her narrative begins in the middle, which means the reader gets to make a few wrong turns before Rosemary breaks through the hedges and rescues you. That is, if you trust her. Since we are hearing all this from Rosemary, it takes time to get used to her fragmented storytelling (not to mention her amazing vocabulary).  In this story, no one is what they seem - and (thankfully) for the reader, that is a very, VERY good thing.  I got to be an innocent (and then not-so-innocent once Rosemary's story comes together) bystander as I sat back and listened to her tale. I was a sympathetic ear...until I was not.  For that, I want to thank Fowler. She is a powerful example of how language and stories create a world we would not otherwise inhabit in our daily lives. Fowler assures that these worlds do exist, as long as we trust the storytelling medium. We won't get everything we want with these characters, but Fowler's Rosemary has everything we need from them...

...are you curious yet?  Allow me to make things "curiouser and curiouser" for you: Rosemary is a brilliant character and her memories - including the missing pieces - create a shifting truth, an almost fluid fairy tale, where deconstruction is the only way to make sense of the entire situation (thanks, Derrida). Rosemary repeats a few parts of her tale, and we are asked to assess certain parts of the narrative, for a second time, while using the knowledge we have up to this point. This alone makes it a fantastic read, since I found myself struggling to decide if I believed, or still liked, our reliable/unreliable narrator. If you've ever had a sibling, especially a sister, this book will speak to you on yet another level. The bond Rosemary shares with her siblings, especially her sister, is beautiful, but unsettling at the same time. In telling her story, Rosemary attempts to cleanse her family's soul and make sense of the rules, behaviors, and scripts that control our interpersonal dynamics.

Again, I don't want to give away ANYTHING, so please, Internet users, refrain from googling this story.  This is the time of year, as the days are getting longer, that anything is possible and stories were meant to be told. This summer, my furious readers, take a chance on Rosemary's truth. Use the long, lazy days ahead of us to listen to another coming-of-age story set in an overgrown labyrinth of Rosemary's signals and words.
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