Science Book a Day Interviews Karen Joy Fowler


Special thanks to Karen Joy Fowler for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

[Please note there are some spoilers below!]

Karen Joy Fowler is the author of six novels and three short story collections. The Jane Austen Book Club spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list and was a New York Times Notable Book. Fowler’s previous novel, Sister Noon was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. – From Karen’s Homepage

Author’s Homepage:

#1 – What was the impetus for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves?
#2 – How did you come up with the idea of a chimp-sibling? Did you base this premise on real-life events?

Combining my answers for #1 and #2, because the impetus for the book was a real-life event, or more specifically, I was talking to my daughter about this real-life experiment and she suggested writing a novel inspired by it. The real-life experiment was conducted in the 1930’s by psychologist Winthrop Kellogg, utilizing his own infant son, named Donald, and an infant chimpanzee, named Gua. I fictionalized the heck out of things – moved the experiment from the 30’s to the 70’s, made it last 5 years instead of 16 months – but this real life experiment (you can still see the home movies on youTube) was the basis for my book.

#3 – Reviews talk about the realism of family relationships involved with this story. Was this important to you, considering that the dynamics of the story hinge on the unusual relationships the family has with Fern?

It was important to me that this be a family like any other family that has suffered a big loss, albeit complicated with feelings of betrayal and guilt. I wanted a story in which everyone was well-intentioned, if not too far-seeing, but the damage was deep in spite of all the love the family shared. I wanted in particular that the relationships of the sibling look like sibling relationships.

#4 – What has been the response to your book? From the general public? Critics? Animal right advocates?

There are always minority opinions, but I’ve been lucky so far that the minority opinion has been the negative and the majority the positive. I’ve had some terrific reviews, reviews that not only liked the book, but seemed to understand it the way I hoped it would be understood. It made a number of best of the year lists in December, and has been shortlisted for the California Book Award as well as winning the PEN/Faulkner. I couldn’t ask for more.

There’s been no official response from animal rights activists, but the handful who have written me individually so far have liked it.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books that you can tell us about?

I am still not onto my next project. I can’t explain that and it’s beginning to make me nervous. It’s surely time.

[Image Credit: Beth Gwinn, ]


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