Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 287
In Karen Joy Fowler's 2013 novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, narrator Rosemary Cooke begins as a college coed at UC Davis. We learn about her family through flashbacks. Specifically, she was raised by parents who were scientists (a fact Rosemary shares with the story's author; Fowler's father was an animal behavior psychologist), alongside an older brother, Lowell, and a chimp, Fern. It is not revealed until considerably later in the novel that Fern is not a human. Growing up, Rosemary and Fern communicate effectively and share a special, affectionate bond. Rosemary considers Fern her twin, and when Fern disappears at age five, Rosemary and her parents are both severely aggrieved, but Rosemary isn't told where her sister went. Lowell blames Rosemary for Fern's disappearance and later runs away, contributing further to the mounting strife within the family.
Rosemary is at UC Davis (a progressive school, distant from her family in Indiana) because her absent brother (wanted by the FBI at the beginning of Rosemary's narration) was last sighted there. Rosemary finds out during her second year of college that Lowell has been searching for her. When Lowell and Rosemary reconnect, she learns that Fern was sent away to a lab to be raised with other chimpanzees when she grew older and stronger, and therefore dangerous to keep in a home with other children. Lowell is wanted by the FBI because he tried to rescue Fern from the lab. Lowell becomes an animal rights activist and, by the novel's close, is apprehended by the FBI.
Rosemary becomes a teacher near to Fern's lab and begins to visit her again. Her relationship with her parents improves, too, inspired by the solace Rosemary feels through having reconnected with Fern.