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A Lifelong Experiment

Posted by Mary Gold on September 28, 2021

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a fantastic novel about love and relationship, sadness of human decisions, and guiltlessness of their victims. The book is about an experiment, which a father of a family, being a psychologist, decides to conduct. It opens the animal-human relations, which has heartbreaking repercussions for the daughter and the whole family. The quality essay is going to investigate the main idea of the book and to open the issue of psychological problems the experiment caused.

In my opinion, the central topic of the book is the manifestation of the imperfect relations between humans and animals. From the first pages of a story, readers see the attitude of the main character to other species: “I didn’t want a world in which I had to choose between blind human babies and tortured monkey ones. To be frank, that’s the sort of choice, I expect science to protect me from, not give me”. The author chose for the novel a fantastic and a little bit mysterious story about the family who adopted a chimpanzee. A lifelong experiment caused incorrigible consequences for one of the family members. Karen Joy Fowler's book is provocative towards family relations. In the middle of the story, the readers found out about a young girl Rosemary Cooke aged 22. Rosemary is a student at a Californian university. There is nothing special in her life, except the fact that she is a grown up girl from that family who adopted a chimpanzee for an experiment. This fact becomes evident in the middle of the book and turns the story totally upside down. Rosemary was taken away from her family at the age of 5. She shares with the readers her memories from the childhood about her brother Lowell and her sister Fern who were actually chimpanzees. The plot is very unordinary. The readers are a part of a usual drama till they learn the background of Rosemary’s tribulations.

The narration is concentrated on the internal feelings of Rosemary. She is lonely but funny. She blames herself for the changes in her life. The early memories of the girl are connected to the experiment in the past and blank spaces in her reminiscences. New feelings go back to the stressful situation in Rosemary’s past. She tries to recall everything, to systematize her memories and to find out what happened to Fern. Rosemary is described in constant search of herself. The author presents the girl captured by her turbulent past, which causes troubles in her today’s life and interferes with her relations with people.  

This novel is a very psychological and sociological one. The narration is very interesting. It is funny, stylish, and insightful. Sometimes, a reader comes across a little bit awkward expressions of Karen Joy Fowler. For example, readers can find the comparisons, which are familiar only to the author herself, like the reasoning that “Parents are too innocent for the Boschian landscapes of middle school”.

The novel is full of humor. It can be seen in the description of the father of a family: “Let’s just say that my father was kind to animals unless it was in the interest of science to be otherwise. He would never have run over a cat if there was nothing to be learned by doing so”. Rosemary often addresses the reader directly telling about her feelings and thoughts. An election year in the U.S., as if you needed to be reminded, the vituperative tunes of the Ayn Rand Marching Band bleating from the airwaves". This technique has a psychological effect and makes the reader closer to drama. This fantastic strategy of the author engages the readers into a protagonist’s world. Some of Karen Joy Fowler's narrative methods make the book difficult to read. The author often steps from one idea into another. The phrases are short and laconic with the use of figurative language: "When I run the world, librarians will be exempt from tragedy. Even their smaller sorrows will last only for as long as you can take out a book". The reason could be in the too strong concentration on a made up idea of the book.

I found Fowler's book compelling and very interesting. It captured my attention from the very first page. The arguments about the psychological difficulties, the role of memories and recoveries from childhood in adulthood, and the question of loss are not rare nowadays. However, the method of an experiment used by the author is strong. There are anger and humor, pathos and disappointment, hurt and love. Readers can experience all possible emotions while going through the story, and, surprisingly, they are connected to a chimpanzee. I loved a sad and serious, but sometimes the comic tone of the book. I enjoyed a dry humor and the elegance of the author’s style. Comparing it to other stories, this novel makes the reader understand the fiction of the book.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves makes readers laugh and cry because of tense internal emotional experience of Rosemary. This is a story that covers many complex issues: hard relations with people, chaotic memories from childhood, lack of self-confidence, and disposition to soul-searching. Events that took place in the family’s past had a long-lasting effect on the entire family and, especially, Rosemary. The novel is built around the life experience of the young girl and teaches to be human in the real sense of this word.


Tags: essay
1 comments
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among October 7, 2021

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