March 2015 Club
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler
Rosemary had an incredibly strong bond with her sister, Fern, who happened to be the same age as her, but not a twin. They did everything together: played, ate and cuddled together. There was sibling rivalry – Rosemary liked to learn new things that Fern couldn’t do to impress her parents, like learning super long words to improve her vocabulary.
Fern was sent away when they were both five-years-old with no explanation while Rosemary was sent to stay at her grandparents’ house for a week. Shortly afterwards, Rosemary’s beloved older brother, Lowell, disappeared from home leaving her bereft of two siblings.
When we first meet Rosemary, she’s just starting college and finding it hard to fit in. The novel is a quest to find out what happened to Fern and Lowell and why she feels guilt and confusion around the circumstances of their disappearances.
It’s incredibly difficult to review this novel without giving away the twist. And it’s a bizarre one.
Suffice to say, Rosemary’s father is a psychologist interested in animal-human behaviour experiments. And Rosemary’s brother becomes an animal rights activist wanted by the FBI.
Along the way, we’re introduced to some secondary characters via Rosemary’s somewhat detached, flat narration. Harlow is a wild drama student friend and they often get into trouble together, once ending up in jail. A lost puppet known as Madame Defarge also seems to play a significant role in the novel, but I didn’t quite understand the significance, other than being valuable to its original owner, if I’m being honest. Perhaps I got a bit over-excited about the knitting aspect, but that didn’t amount to much.
In short, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a novel about parental secrets, the way we treat animals, the animalistic part of ourselves and sibling relationships.
Apart from the amber eyes of one of the main characters, the colour that stood out to me most was Powder Blue. The hard-shelled, powder blue suitcase makes numerous appearances throughout the novel, and when Rosemary runs away from her grandparents’ house when she’s five, she finds sanctuary in a little blue house which she picked because she liked the colour, so the semi-solid colourway is Powder Blue.
For the variegated colourway, I was inspired by Rosemary’s Childhood Memories of the large farmhouse the family inhabited “with twenty acres of dogwood, sumac, goldenrod, and poison ivy”. So I randomly added pink, pink-red, golden yellow and ivy green to the yarn with a touch of the powder blue.