We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (audio)

**AVOID SPOILERS!** (There are none below.) As a commenter pointed out, there may be spoilers even on the dust jacket or other coverings for the book or audiobook itself. Proceed cautiously. Just trust me and read the book itself.


beside

This is one of those with a big reveal to it that *makes* the book. For the love of whatever you love, please, avoid all discussion of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves until you read it. Excepting this review, of course, which promises to be spoiler-free and is therefore safe, and brief.

I’m glad Liz recommended this one to me, on audio specifically, and I shall do the same. Get the audiobook, which is beautifully and feelingly narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. Our young female protagonist/narrator Rosemary is a little troubled, but likeable right from the start. She uses the unusual second-person voice, breaking down the fourth wall to talk directly to her audience: “you may have the impression from what I’ve just said, that… but here’s another thing I’d like you to know…” Her story is compelling from the beginning, and involves a number of different threads and an occasionally disjointed timeline. I don’t know what else I can tell you without giving it all away. It’s about family, self-determination, the nature of memory. Life. You will laugh and be amazed. Go out and get this book now, and don’t let anybody tell you anything about it. Oh – a little bird told me Karen Joy Fowler gave away the big secret in a book talk somewhere. She is an outstanding writer, but apparently a potentially disastrous speaker. Avoid her talks til you’ve read the book. Go read the book. That’s all.


Rating: 8 studies quoted.

book beginnings on Friday: Untangling the Knot, edited by Carter Sickels

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

untangling

This is an essay collection, Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships and Gender. I found it quite eye-opening and recommend it highly. From the introduction by editor Carter Sickels, a beginning for you:

I’m writing this the day after Oregon has legalized gay marriage, and I can’t stop looking at the pictures of people lined up at the courthouse or listening to the interviews of couples who’ve been waiting for this moment for ten, twenty, thirty years. Today, Portland is a city of celebration.

There is a ‘but’ coming, though. Stick around: it is interesting and enlightening.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil

The lengthy and bizarre search for a childhood bully, with humor, pathos and redemption.

whipping boy

During his single year at a boarding school in Switzerland, sixth-grader Allen Kurzweil roomed with a boy improbably named Cesar Augustus, who bullied him physically and emotionally. Then Allen moved on, lived all over the world, found a successful career in journalism and writing, married a French anthropologist and had a son. But throughout those intervening years, Allen was bothered by the memory of Cesar.

In researching Cesar’s likely whereabouts, Allen dismisses false leads and relives old trauma. Eventually, he finds his childhood tormentor in a nearly unbelievable narrative: Cesar was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a criminal scam so outlandish that it reads like a novel. Allen Kurzweil’s Whipping Boy is a work of nonfiction, with no names changed; just when it starts feeling like a thriller, it gets stranger than fiction.

Kurzweil is obsessed with Cesar, his “menace and muse.” He wants to right wrongs, to avenge himself and to solve a mystery. He also wants to stick up for his son, also bullied at a young age. Along the way, he is distracted–as is the reader–by the monstrosity and incredibility of con men who claim to be royalty, with costumes and jewelry to match, who manage to defraud eminent savvy businesspeople; and he is forced to consider questions about the nature of memory. But in the end, courage and closure are the rewards for a heartfelt, very funny, poignant and extremely weird story to which Kurzweil’s self-deprecatory voice is perfectly suited.


This review originally ran in the January 27, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 foosballs.

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

A delicious, deceptively simple tale of art, crime, love and betrayal.

unbecoming

In the opening pages of Rebecca Scherm’s debut novel, Unbecoming, Julie from California is working in Paris at an antiques repair shop, polishing and replacing hinges, cleaning beadwork and resetting jewels. Except her name is really Grace, and she’s from Garland, Tennessee. Two young men are about to be paroled from prison in Garland, and Grace is nervous, because her name is not all she’s lying about. From this beginning, we follow Grace back in time: her unhappy home life, her great luck in being loved by a popular boy from a good family, her joy at being his mother’s daughter, her departure for college in New York City, her work in art appraisal and her ignominious retreat from all of the above. Only at the end of the novel do we learn how exactly Grace landed in Paris with a new name, a forged biography and a fear of her past.

Unbecoming is beguiling: a love story with twists and turns; the tale of an insecure, insufficiently loved girl from the wrong side of the tracks; a delightfully nuanced narrative about trust and trustworthiness. Grace is endearing and intriguing, although she is not all (or is more than) she seems. Layers of lies, longing and duplicity recall The Talented Mr. Ripley, another chilling masterpiece of dishonesty’s helpless acceleration. Scherm’s light, confident touch with pacing, suspense and characterization is pitch-perfect. Beware staying up all night to rush through this engrossing, enchanting debut.


This review originally ran in the January 27, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 trillions.

Teaser Tuesdays: Her Own Vietnam by Lynn Kanter

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

vietnam

Our protagonist, Della, was an army nurse and is only just beginning to attempt to deal with her experiences there.

Suddenly every conversation was about Vietnam. After all this time, she finally wanted her family to ask her about it, but when they did she didn’t like it, or she didn’t like the questions they asked or the way they squirmed when she answered.

So simple, this concept, despite its self-conflict; and so representative, I think. I love that in a piece of writing.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

The Neighborhood Playhouse presents A Year With Frog and Toad

the first book

the first book

You know I love to go to the theatre. I noticed a poster around Christmas for this production, which is based on a series of children’s books I remember, the Frog and Toad adventures written & illustrated by Arnold Lobel. I loved the idea of a play built on these sweet, simple stories, and the price was right. When I had time to think of it a little more, I wondered if “children’s theatre” was really something I wanted to see; but they did bill it as being fun for adults, too. Shrug. My parents and I went on a Sunday afternoon… and I’m so glad we did!

frog and toadFrog and Toad’s adventures have made it to musical theatre, and only five actors play all the roles: Frog and Toad, of course, are joined by a menagerie of birds, moles, turtle, lizard, snail and squirrel, which roles are shared between the other three. We thought the musical format was “inspired” (my dad’s word), but it turns out to be the inspired choice not of The Neighborhood Playhouse but of Lobel’s daughter, who commissioned the piece in 2000, according to Wikipedia, which also points out that this is a popular choice for community theatre groups, as we saw here. It is really sweet, and cute – in the spirit of the original books. Frog and Toad are neighbors and good friends, and share an entirely good-hearted, caring day-to-day life. They interact with the other woodland creatures in good-hearted ways; it is positively heartwarming (cynics beware), and in musical form, both hilarious and charming. I found it ran a little long for the age group that formed the audience, at nearly two hours. But the performances – singing, dancing and acting – were quite seriously good, far better than the under-10-years crowd would have required, I suppose, and plenty impressive to those of us adults unaccompanied by babes. My favorite character was Snail.

I think it’s great that TNP is out there producing such quality, affordable theatre; and I liked the venue, the Bellingham Theatre Guild, an intimate setting in a former church. I will be looking for more. Hooray for the new hometown!

book beginnings on Friday: Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

astray

Confession: I had already finished this totally amazing book when I flipped back to the front to offer you a book beginning. And I am excited all over again by the first sentence – which, by the way, I find surprising upon a reread, based on what I now know about the character… but I’ll stop there.

Mrs. Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight.

Clearly I can’t contain myself. Get a copy of this startling debut novel and find out what happens to Mrs. Featherby in her frontless house.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

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