In January, we revived the Morris County Book Club for 2015. As our inaugural book, we read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
“As a girl in Indiana, Rosemary, Fowler’s breathtakingly droll 22-year-old narrator, felt that she and Fern were not only sisters but also twins. So she was devastated when Fern disappeared. Then her older brother, Lowell, also vanished. Rosemary is now prolonging her college studies in California, unsure of what to make of her life. Enter tempestuous and sexy Harlow, a very dangerous friend who forces Rosemary to confront her past”. – Booklist starred review
We had a very spirited discussion about this book. About half the book clubbers did not know the big reveal in the middle of the book about Fern, but the other half did. We discussed whether or not this affected how we felt about the story as we learned more about Fern. We talked about starting the book “in the middle,” and how it helped our understanding of the relationship between Rosemary and Fern.
We spent some time on the character of Harlow; some of us thought that perhaps she was an adult substitute for Fern, and that is why she was so appealing to Rosemary. Others of us thought she was just dangerous and didn’t understand Rosemary’s affection for her.
We talked in some detail about whether Rosemary’s parents were good parents. Though we all agreed the experiment was not properly thought through in the beginning, some of us thought the parents were more well-intentioned than others.
Without giving too much away regarding the plot of the book, we had a discussion about animal rights versus scientific advancements. We found that, as Rosemary states late in the novel, “Nobody’s arguing these issues are easy.” We all had sympathy for the animals, but we also understood that there are advancements made in the name of science that would be impossible otherwise.
The moderators found several online discussion guides for the book, including the following:
- LitLovers has several interesting questions about Harlow, memory, and animal experimentation.
- A fantastic reading guide from the British book publisher Waterstones. This includes an article from the author about writing this novel, as well as an article about chimps in the wild by well-known primatologist Richard Wrangham.
Overall, our book clubbers enjoyed this book, with most giving it 3 or 4 stars in our informal survey.
For additional information on this book, here is an interview with the author, Karen Joy Fowler, about her book.