We Are Completely Beside Ourselves

In Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, the narrator begins in media res.

Rosemary is a well-educated, unreliable narrator. She tells readers she is in mourning because her sister disappeared seventeen years ago and her brother disappeared ten years ago.

In no way is We Are Completely Beside Ourselves a typical missing person story. There’s a lot more at play. Rosemary’s brother is a domestic terrorist and Rosemary’s sister is a chimpanzee for starters. Her father is a psychologist who is keen on treating his children like the psychological subjects he is studying.

Tragic and compelling, this novel explores many tantalizing subjects such as the fallibility of memory, the notion of humanity, and the debilitating effect of family secrets.

For another book about a family’s misadventures in animal experimentation, try We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge.  

History of Wolves by Emily Frilund

historyofwolvesFor a coming-of-age story that transcends genre, read Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves.

One of the central questions in this tale is culpability.

“What’s the difference between what you want to believe and what you do?…And what’s the difference between what you think and what you end up doing,” Madeleine wonders.

She’s a kid surrounded by adults–her parents, Mr. Grierson, the Gardners who shirk their duties and blame others for mistakes they make.

The worst offender is probably Patra who blames illogically blames Madeleine for the death of her four-year-old.

Then there’s Mr. Grierson, her teacher, who is reprehensible but not guilt of what Lily and the police charge him with. Madeleine tracks him to Florida after he gets out of prison. She writes letters to him reminding him but  he seems to have forgotten her.

Though Madeleine is expert at hiking and traversing the streams the woods, she is less expert at deciphering social cues or understanding human relationships. Perhaps that is why she is fascinated by Patra and Leo’s strange relationship.

However capable she is at wilderness survival, Madeleine is strangely powerless when faced  with Leo’s religious obsession or Lily’s duplicity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shirley Jackson

shirleyjackson

 “So long as you write it away regularly nothing can really hurt you.”  Shirley Jackson.

I think this is why so many writer do what they do. Writing is a snapshot of a particular time, often painful, but sometimes joyful. It’s a memory, a recording, that makes the ordinary details of life extraordinary.

The Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

 

Years after a horrific crime, Tessie, the only survivor in the “Black-eyed Susan” murders steps forward. She is beginning to doubt that the right person has been convicted for the heinous crime.

Tessie was nearly killed and blinded by a “monster.” After the  horrific attack, Tessie suffers memory loss and psychological blindess–a conversion disorder.

Heaberlin unveils the chilling story in back and forth chapters that contrasts events near the time of the crime with its aftershock seventeen years later.

If Tessie does not change her testimony, an innocent man could face the death penalty. Tessie, however, is reluctant to delve into her past. After all, she has her own daughter to protect from the media’s harsh glare.

Adding to the tension is the fact that Tessie thinks she is going insane.

Immediately after the crime she begins to hear the voices of the other Susans in her head. The grown-up Tessie thinks her monster has been planting batches of blacked-eyed susans to traumatize her.

The twist at the end packs a wallop. Heaberlin’s latest is for fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins and Brunonia Barry.

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

On his way back from a client on the coast, Andrew Snow, a rare book dealer, cuts through the Downs and has an odd experience. After leaving the main road, he gets lost and finds himself inexplicably stopping at a dilapidated mansion. On The White House grounds, he feels the presence of a small hand gripping his own but yet there’s no visible child. Is this a ghost or is he going mad like his brother, Hugo? Why do the gardens and pool fascinate him? Why does it all seem so achingly familiar?

Susan Hill (The Woman in Black) does a masterful job of creating tension and suspense in the marvelous ghost story. Hill is particularly good and creating psychological portraits that ring true. Infused with the supernatural, this novelette also revels how skillfully we deceive ourselves as adults. Grown-ups falsely believe their past is past–that their childhood fears and offenses are long buried.