It’s not until more than 75 pages into the story that the reader finds out why the unhappy family in Karen Joy Fowler’s wonderful, gripping new novel is unhappy in its own unique way. In “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” the author first lays some well-trod novelistic groundwork: middle-class Midwestern family, alcoholic father, delinquent brother, emotionally fragile mother, favored and attention-claiming sister, damaged narrator. But wait. What unfolds is a family saga with a twist.
While tempted to keep the twist secret, or at least to shout “spoiler alert!,” I’m going to spill the beans — not just because the secret is given away on the back cover of the book or because this novel is not a mystery devoted to red herrings and bait-and-switch tricks. Rather, the point of the story is not the surprise itself but its position as the crucible, the spectacular heart from which everything else spins.