This week in mini-reviews, the two works of fiction that I’ve finished so far in 2014: We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud.
We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”
I checked We Are Completely Beside Ourselves out from the library because Jenny at Reading the End included it in her end of 2013 superlatives post, calling it “the best execution of a trick premise” that also had great writing, great jokes and great sadness. I was sold.
And happily Jenny did not lead me astray. We Are Completely Beside Ourselves was a great read — so good that I finished it in one sitting close to New Year’s Day. Like Jenny said, the book commits to a premise related to the way in which stories are told and then doesn’t give up through the end. It’s a lovely look at family ethics and science that I enjoyed a lot. It’s out in paperback in February, so go find it!
The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud
The Emperor’s Children entwines the stories of Danielle Minkoff, Marina Thwaite and Julius Clarke, who met at Brown University and came to New York in the early 1990’s, giddy with the parochial entitlement of expensively educated young Americans. Each expected to do something important and each, at 30, is still struggling to make something of him- or herself. … In the spring of 2001, two destabilizing forces enter their lives: Ludovic Seeley, an Australian magazine editor who holds nothing sacred and plans to start a contrarian publication that will spur a revolution, and Frederick Tubb (known as Bootie), a chubby, bespectacled 20-year-old in possession of a healthy dose of smarts and an unhealthy amount of resentment. (Description via The New York Times)
Claire Messud is one of the authors on my mental list of Writers I Should Read Already. I snagged a copy of this book at a clearance sale and decided to read it this month because I was on some long hold lists for her most recent novel, The Woman Upstairs. I think The Emperor’s Children probably got the accolades that it did because it’s a really New York-y novel that will appeal to people who are into the whole culture of the city and whatnot.
Normally that’s not really my thing, but I think I’m having residual good feelings related to books about crazy rich people, which this one fits into pretty well (to an extent anyway — the Thwaite’s are well-off and their good fortune trickles to Danielle and Julius). All of the characters are unpleasant in their own ways, but since it’s social satire you get to feel smug and good about yourself when they’re being annoying. I like that, but I’m also sort of mean. This wasn’t my favorite book ever, but I was drawn into the story and I’m glad I read it.
Disclosure: I checked out We Are Completely Beside Ourselves from my local library and bought a copy of The Emperor’s Children.