Well. How do you read anything after getting through A Little Life? I had a hard time jumping into another book. I thought about reading, and I wanted to read, but I found it difficult to crack open a new book after all the tears I shed while reading A.L.L. I finally compromised and cracked open a book that wasn’t on my immediate To Be Read (TBR) list. It was a book I read before as a child and I hoped it would bring me out of my mini reading funk.
Yes, that’s right. I read Matilda. I chose this book for a few reasons: The nostalgia factor, the fact that books play such a central role in Matilda’s young life, and because when I thought of Matilda, I thought more of the movie than the book. It was time for a re-read.
Some books stick out in your mind from your childhood, and Matilda is absolutely one of those books for me. I remember curling up in my daybed in my Pepto-Bismol pink bedroom and reading this book. I think I was in 2nd grade when I read it and I consider it the first “big” book I ever completed. I won’t go into the details of the plot, but I will say it was the perfect book to read to help me get my reading groove back.
After Matilda, I read We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
I devoured this book. So good. So interesting. I’ll try to string together better, more comprehensive sentences about it now.
Rosemary Cooke grew up in Bloomington, Indiana with her scientist parents, an older brother Lowell, and a twin named Fern. Her upbringing was anything but normal, though, as it is discovered early on that Fern is a chimpanzee, and her parents raised Fern and Rosemary as sisters, studying their relationship and behavior. Something happens when Rosemary was 5 that caused a fracture in the family. Fern disappeared, and then 5 or 6 years later, Rosemary’s beloved older brother ran away, leaving Rosemary behind.
The book begins in the middle of the story, with Rosemary is studying at UC Davis, a university chosen because it’s far way from her family and her past, but is also in a city she knows her brother has spent at least a little time in. As a young adult, Rosemary strikes you as not at all well-adjusted. She is haunted by memories she wants to forget and has very few meaningful relationships.
The family’s past is explored with Rosemary as the narrator, who outright admits that this is simply the way she remembers things, acknowledging and struggling with whether what she remembers are a true account. She shares her memories of her relationship to Fern, Lowell, her parents, and the grad students who populated her early life. She details life after Fern with an angry brother, an inconsolable mother, and an academically disgraced father who tends to drink a lot. And then Lowell, who is on the run as an animal activist, shows up and makes a brief appearance in her life. She learns what happened to Fern after their separation and is confronted with a past she can’t always remember or explain. Many questions are answered as Fowler fills in the missing pieces with Lowell’s and Fern’s stories, but just as many questions remained unanswered. What was the true nature of the study of Fern and Rosemary? Are studies like this just or is more harm being done than good? Is it fair to use animals in this way even if they are treated “humanely”? Can your memories be trusted? What if two people who went through the same experience remember things completely differently? Who is right?
I think Fowler’s execution of this unique story is pretty close to perfect, and I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychology, family dramas, books that jump around in time, and books that deal with the relationship of humans to animals.