Sometimes, work on a novel takes years, but then the stars align, and suddenly it appears in print at exactly the right moment.
Case in point: Karen Joy Fowler has just published “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” but she started a long time ago. “I actually got the idea for it (courtesy of my daughter) in 2000, just days after the millennial new year,” she writes via e-mail. “So I’ve been talking about it for more than a decade. I wrote two other novels during that same period.”
But no publisher could have better timed the release of “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.” The novel tells the story of a woman who was raised with a chimp as a sibling. (Review here) It’s a story loosely inspired by the work of Winthrop Kellogg, at Indiana University, who raised his baby son alongside a chimp for several months in the early 1930s.
Though not a polemic against animal research, Fowler’s novel does include some grisly descriptions of the “endless, fathomless misery” that chimps have been subjected to in the name of science. It’s impossible to read this story without feeling deep remorse about the way these animals have been treated.
As if on cue, this week comes the happy news that scientists are prepared to establish new protections for chimpanzees.
According to a story in The Washington Post: “The federal government moved Tuesday to declare all chimpanzees endangered, an act that would provide stronger protections and potentially end nearly a century of using great apes as test subjects for invasive medical research.”
This is “really welcome news!” Fowler says. “This gives me hope that we may rethink our relationship to chimps even more profoundly in the future, acknowledging their basic legal rights as the Great Ape Project has proposed.”
If your book club is looking for a novel that’s sure to provoke interesting discussion, here’s a good one to consider.