If you love Karen Joy Fowler's books (and you should, because she is a spectacular science fiction writer who has also written some thoroughly mainstream bestsellers), you'll know that there are two Fowlers: there's the mysterious, subtle Fowler of Sarah Canary, a nearly indescribable masterpiece; and there's the accessible, funny, sweet Fowler of The Jane Austen Book Club. But in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, her first novel since 2008, she fuses these two things into a novel that is simultaneously a high-speed antic and an absolutely essential meditation on nothing less than what it means to be a good person.
This is a difficult novel to write about! At the heart of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves are multiple important mysteries whose reveals are integral to the effect of the book. I can't think of any way of summarizing the plot without spoilerizing at least some of these, but I'll give it a try: Rosemary Cooke was raised by her scientist parents with her older brother and twin sister, but by the time she is an adult, both of her siblings are gone and her parents are shattered. Despite this (or because of it), she has a mesmerizing personality that leaps off the page, and a storytelling style that is nothing less than riveting. It helps that the story she's telling is such an interesting one, of course.
Leaving the plot and its spoilers aside, I can tell you this: I gasped aloud and put this book down more than once, filled with ache and worry for the characters; I laughed aloud several times; and when it was done, the big questions it raised about kindness, empathy, and cruelty lingered with me and show no signs of fading.
It's one thing to write a deep book. It's another altogether to write a deep book that clips along like a pop song, one that periodically skewers you on events and questions that pin you to the world and demand that you confront things that we've all carefully avoided for most of our lives.