Tag Archives: literary

“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” – Karen Joy Fowler

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we are all completely beside ourselves - Karen Joy FowlerWhen I finished reading this book, I felt I had to share something, somewhere. I wasn’t ready to write a review yet. I was still too rapt. So I went to Facebook, and posted:

Just finished reading Karen Joy Fowlers “We are all completely beside ourselves.” Coming up for air now. It’s a masterpiece. The voice is comic, sprightly, delightful. The story is dark and layered… so much so that midway, I thought it might be too much for me to deal with. I’m glad I continued.

I lucked out on the way I came to this book.

WHY KINDLE IS BETTER

At  Wiscon, where Karen read from it, I’d hoped to get her to sign it for me. I didn’t know anything about it then, but Karen was one of my Clarion instructors and I love her writing. But the book wasn’t actually coming out until two days after Wiscon. Nor could I attend any of her Bay Area signings, where I’d undoubtedly have bought it.

I’d wait, I thought. This is San Francisco, she lives not too far from this city, and would undoubtedly be here for a reading some time. But before that happened, my author friend Kater Cheek wrote a review that made me feel I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I sometimes feel guilty,” Kater wrote, “about all my average “liked it” star ratings in a world of grade inflation, and have thought about re-scaling all my books so that they all have 4 or 5 stars. But then a book comes along like this, where it really was amazing, and I’m glad that I so rarely give out 5 stars, because then people can understand that 5 stars means that this book is really something special, and not merely good.

The rest of her review was general – as this piece will be, and for the same reason. There’s a surprise that hits you well into the book that makes everything you’ve read thus far fall into place. If you know what that surprise is (and I think many people do by now), it’s still a superb book, but it loses – that.

So anyway, after reading Kater’s review, the Kindle edition of the book was only a couple of clicks away.

And that’s where I got lucky. The paper version of  the book actually has the surprise on its dustjacket. (I still haven’t bought the paper version, though I intend to do so the next time Karen can sign it.) In fact, it’s even in the description on Amazon, which thankfully I did not read. So when I started in, the revelation burst upon me as the author intended, with just the right mixture of shock and comprehension and satisfaction of curiosity and revising of mental images.

And that’s why this isn’t really a review of the book, but more of a reaction to it.

WHAT I LOVED

I would have read the book for the voice alone. The protagonist, Rosemary, is a college student when we first encounter her. She’s just been arrested for getting involved in a cafeteria incident where the girl at the next table is breaking up with her boyfriend by breaking things. Her descriptions are smart and witty, the turns of phrase utterly wonderful.

But it gets even better. It’s not just the voice, it’s about reality. And perhaps the motto of this book should be ‘Nothing is as it seems.’ There’s a deeper meaning to everything, and even that keeps changing. The plot twists like a snake in a maze.

And it gets worse, especially if you take families, love, and animals seriously (and all these matter to me). Difficult political themes emerge, confronting us with the whole issue of the homo sapiens and its relation to other animals – including power, love and cruelty and confronting Rosemary with a confusing set of choices. The story inexorably darkens. As I wrote in my immediate reaction, at one point it was getting so depressing – despite the witty tone – I thought I might stop reading. But I didn’t.

And it gets better again, pulling all the disparate strands into a bitter-sweet ending that was a lot more satisfying than the fashionable grimdark things where life slides into an inevitable decline and a book’s beginning is the best part of it.

The technical virtuosity is breathtaking, leaving me-the-writer undecided whether I should tip my hat and bow profoundly, or dig a deep hole and pull the turf over me in despair. Also – she makes it looks easy.

It’s brilliant.

Wiscon 2013: Guest-of-Honor Readings at ”A Room of One’s Own Bookstore”

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I’m back at Wiscon! This is Wiscon 37, and kudos to the team that’s delivered it all these years. It’s only after my involvement with FOGcon that I’m beginning to comprehend the huge amount of work that a Con entails.

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The traditional kick-off is a reading by the Guests of Honor, hosted by “A Room of One’s Own.” Though I’d been there before (twice) I thought to check that I remembered the route. Just as well, because it’s moved, a block down. The new premises are lovely, with a traditional frontage and interior arches.

A room of one's own Bookstore

I went in to find quite a few people already gathered. The reading space felt smaller than the backroom they used to have, and most of the chairs were taken. Still, I found a place to sit, then left my coat there while I mingled. I found Laurie Toby Edison at the snack table, and she described her new “Discworld” sculpture: the turtle and elephants and the Discworld (which is a boulder opal). Also a silver Fantasy map she’s working on. It all sounds quite magical. She may have some photographs. I’m also looking forward to seeing her other work; she listed them on her LiveJournal and they sound gorgeous (she didn’t have pictures of those).

Also said Hi to quite a few other people. It had this lovely “First day of school after summer” feel to it.

GUEST OF HONOR READINGS

Piglet introduced Jo Walton with a humorous verse. Jo’s reading, from her current novel,  was hilarious. Apollo’s confused because Daphne becomes a tree rather than mate with him, so he asks his sister Artemis to explain. She directs him to Athene, who says something about “volition” and gets him involved in her own project: Recreating Plato’s Republic before it was even written. [Here’s a link to her blog, Bluejo’s Journal]

jo walton reading at a room of ones own bookstore in madison

Joan Slonczewski reading at A Room of One's Own BookstoreJesse the K introduced Joan Slonczewski, and even though she had apparently rehearsed it, she stumbled over the name. Joan took it in her stride. “My students call me Dr Zeus,” she said, and explained the background of her science as well as her fiction: Western diets have disrupted our bacterial ecosystems, which must be corrected with inputs from the uncorrupted intestinal flora of people in places like Africa. Someone near me mentioned fecal transplants, which are ingested. Then she read an excerpt in which the heroine, who has been attacked for hosting sentient bacteria, is moving to a new house – which is also sentient, and is decorating itself.  [Joan’s blog, Ultraphyte, is linked here.]

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After the readings, I made contact with Kater Cheek (and daughter) and J (who has a book out: The Flaming Geeks Book of Geeky Trivia) and picked up my Program Guide. I started marking off all the things I wanted to attend. As usual, there were between 2 and 4 “Can’t miss” events in each time-slot. You may see me darting in and out of rooms a lot.