Memoir of a Monkey Girl

The middle of the story comes first.  A coed at UC Davis, Rosemary is used to being the odd girl out, but when she witnesses a furniture and food throwing breakup meltdown in the campus dining hall and finds herself in the middle of it, dropping her own lunch tray and glass and is subsequently cuffed and carted off to jail, she has an arrest to add to her weird resume.  Beginning with their incarceration, Rosie realizes an unlikely friendship with  real instigator, the drama-loving Harlow.  Book cover for We Are All Completely beside Ourselves by Karen Joy FowlerThe escapades that follow include a lost suitcase, a Zen-like vigilante apartment custodian, a Madame LaFarge marionette, a reunion with Rosemary’s missing brother, mind-altering substances, and another run in with the law.  But don’t mistake this book for a madcap romp.  At the heart of the book is the event that defines Rosemary and her family, the line that marks the before and after.  When Rosemary is five, she alone is sent to spend the summer with her grandparents while her brother and sister remain at home.  When she returns, her sister is gone.  Has she died?  Has she been kidnapped?  The reader comes to learn that Fern has been sent away and spends pages puzzling why.   Fern’s absence is a wound from which the family never recovers; her existence, a shocking burden on her sister.  Rosemary’s coming to terms with what became of her sister is a heartbreaking exploration of loyalty, memory, guilt, and what exactly it is to be human.  Fowler has written a powerful novel based on a shameful practice in the history of psychology, and she has populated it with difficult, sympathetic characters–a great candidate for discussion.

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