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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Big Scene: Something missing in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

A little disappointed nearing the end of Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves not to have the one big scene - whatever it might be or have been - that the novel seems to be driving toward: will the narrator, Rosemary, take us to participate in the destruction of an an animal-experimentation lab? Will she go home to Indiana to confront her parents about ruining the lives of their children? Will she fine her "sister" Fern and have a tearful reunion, or otherwise? It seems this is a novel of promise and innuendo without the big payoff; now I don;t mean to be a Luddite and expect all novels to be entirely plot-driven, and I recognize the strengths of this one: there are two areas in fact in which Fowler surpasses the vast majority of her contemporaries. First, this is an extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking book; even tho at times it feels didactic and there's too much "telling" rather than showing, you can't help but ponder the issues of animal rights and of the boundaries between species, some just social conventions and others inviolable. Second, Fowler's narrative voice is completely engaging and because of her comfortable but not overbearing familiar address to readers we accept and forgive her unusual digressions and withholding of vital information solely for dramatic effect. That is, could we believe that realistically someone would tell her life story and only half-way through reveal that she was raised w/ a chimp sister? no, but Rosemary blithely explains that she is sick and tired of being called monkey girl and the like, and wanted to be known just as herself, not to have her life story defined by her relationship to her chimp sister - but then why are you writing this book? Yet she brings it off, she has a witty and conversational manner that's very welcoming and winning. Yet what are the big scenes in this novel? A night of drunken carousing in Davis, California? It's not enough - this a novel with lots of great material but the central events are undeveloped or perhaps not even present - many opportunities for drama and readers engagement flouted, missed.

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