We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler9781846689666

Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone – vanished from her life.

“I wanted you to have an extraordinary life,” confesses Rosemary’s mother in Karen Joy Fowler’s wise, provocative and wildly endearing take on family love. Did no one warn Mrs Cooke to be careful what she wished for? Had she any inkling of the family cataclysm her innocent desire would engender, and the complex repercussions her daughter would suffer in its wake?

Rewind to the day back in 1970s Indiana, when narrator-heroine Rosemary is separated from her beloved  sister, Fern, and sent, aged five, for a week’s visit to her grandparents. “I knew the winds of doom when they blew,” Rosemary recalls. She senses that she has committed a heinous crime, for which her punishment is expulsion from the bosom of the family. But no. On her return, it is the thrill-seeking Fern who has been dispatched – never to be seen again. There are no explanations.

Soon afterwards, Rosemary’s stormy teenage brother Lowell absconds, also without discussion, leaving her bereft again. When he commits a series of crimes in the name of animal rights and becomes a fugitive from the FBI, a second hole is blasted in the already shaken family. More silence follows and little motormouth Rosemary, recognising a double taboo when she sees one, packs away her enthusiastically learned vocabulary and becomes an almost silent child. In time, she will be left with only a baffling palimpsest of sibling memories, recounted through caustic, guilt-tinged flashbacks.


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