Sunday, February 7, 2016

Off Book: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Off Book is my rambling reactions to recent reads.
(SPOILERS for all book commentary posts)

Karen Joy Fowler's book is about three years old, but I'm just reading it now. I imagine it was popular in my hometown of Davis when it came out; it's fun to trace Rosemary's antics through the college town. But the appeal of the book is so much deeper.

My mom read the book first as an e-book, and therefore didn't know the major plot point that it's a story of a family that raised a chimp as a daughter for five years, and the fallout from when Fern is taken away. She said it was fascinating at her book club to see how different her experience was from those who read a physical book and saw the chimp on the cover and read the copy on the back of the book. Mom says she enjoyed the reveal, so she wrapped a copy up for me to give me the same experience. It certainly made the first third of the book tantalizing, and also let me experience the story as narrator Rosemary intends, hearing of her sister Fern before designating her "just" a chimp.

The book is about how we grow up revising the stories of our lives in our own heads, about how we came away from nature--this past, lost paradise of a rambling farmhouse and land, where animals are kin and the patriarchy is (only seemingly?) held at bay. The doubles--imaginary and real friends, dummies, sisters--and the title hint at the theme of knowing ourselves and others. It's about identity, how we find ourselves in others and make ourselves into who we are, and a basic nub of immutable identity at the heart of us.  It's about storytelling itself--a very human act--and it's entertaining as heck!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, a book worth buying, worth the shelf space. It's going to be a classic. Fan of Kingsolver's The Bean Trees will enjoy.