We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

9780399162091_p0_v3_s260x420If you take Barbara Kingsolver’s advice in her New York Times review of Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,  as I did   – “avoiding everything written about it…”  including Kingsolver’s review –  you will enjoy the surprise that Fowler conceals until almost 100 pages into the story.  No spoilers here but you might consider stopping right here so you won’t risk it.

Rosemary Cooke, narrates the tale of her family. Her father is a respected university psychologist with a crew of graduate students to help with his research in animal behavior.  She starts her story “in the middle” and jumps back and forth from her college days at the University of California Davis to her childhood with her brother, Lowell, who becomes a fugitive from the FBI before graduating from high school, and her sister, Fern, who suffers a terrible fate when she is only five years old, that changes everything for everyone.

Fowler includes some comic moments with a puppet modeled after Madame Defarge (Madame Guillotine), but the serious notes predominate, with frequent references to scientific study and political upheaval – at times overwhelming the story with detailed erudite citations and shocking brutal treatment of animals.  In addition to her obvious agenda for animal rights, Fowler slowly unravels family lives that are irrevocably sidetracked.  When the surprise is revealed, the consequences of family interaction seem unique to their situation, but by the end Fowler has connected the story to all families who suffer the distractions of sibling rivalry as well as family loyalty.  And, she may challenge your perception of what is normal human behavior.

It’s no surprise that the New York Times asked Kingsolver to write the review; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has faint notes of Flight Behavior – a book with a message and characters who will stay with you.

All My Patients Have Tales

The clever title and funny cover of Jeff Wells’ All My Patients Have Tales caught my eye and brought back fond memories of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.  In his Doc Hollywood treats the animals memoir, Wells starts with his boyhood dreams, working through a degree in animal science and finally veterinary school.

With a chapter for each animal he treated as he progressed in his career, Wells includes stories about turkeys, cows, porcupines, donkeys, pigs – and cats and dogs.  He messes up, learn from his mistakes, saves the animal.  Some of the chapter titles can direct you: “Biker Dog,” “A Hog in the House” – but “Fish Out of Water” tells about meeting and courting his wife.

Wells’ stories are simply told, highly detailed, sprinkled with some high school humor – might be a good prerequisite before applying for vetinary school.  You’ll need lots of patience to get through the entire book.  The title may be the best part.

“For years I used to bore my wife over lunch with stories of funny incidents…”   James Herriot