Rosemary Cooke has just been taken to jail. She is a quiet college student, perhaps the last person you would expect to throw a tantrum in the university cafeteria, destroying property and endangering other students. She has no friends and very few acquaintances. Her parents are emotionally and physically distant. Her older brother left home when he turned 18 and she has not seen him for more than 10 years. The only one who might understand Rosemary is her twin sister Fern, who has enjoyed a good tantrum now and then herself. But Fern has gone away too—sold to a research facility when they were 5 years old. Rosemary’s sister is a chimpanzee. In We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler presents a unique family dynamic and explores the enduring strength of sibling love.
For the first five years of their lives, Rosemary and Fern slept, ate, played and learned side-by-side. They were one of a number of families that adopted a chimpanzee, promising to raise it as an equal member of the family. When Fern inexplicably disappears, it sends her brother into a rage, her parents into denial and Rosemary into a state of lost identity. She was forced to suppress her monkey nature and assimilate into “humans only” society. She never quite got the knack of it though, and the loss of the defining relationship in her life is something she is still trying to overcome. When her brother suddenly returns with information about Fern, Rosemary is forced to face her monkey-girl self once again. Readers who enjoy complex family dramas or animal/human stories such as Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel or Ape House by Sara Gruen will find Fowler’s latest a thought-provoking read.