A laugh-out-loud/cry-out-loud tale designed to illuminate our lives and prick our conscience. It is the story of Rosemary, who begins her story “in the middle,” saving the big reveal for later. Rosemary is at college when the novel begins, suffering from a lack of friends, a lack of self-esteem and from a huge gaping hole inside her dating back to when she lost her twin sister Fern at age five, her beloved older brother Lowell not too long afterwards, and watched her father descend into alcoholism and her mother never emerge from the twilight of a nervous breakdown.
Although the following appears to be a spoiler, it is a spoiler intended by the author to be revealed in reviews, on the book cover, and elsewhere: twin sister Fern is a chimpanzee, adopted as an infant when Rosemary was born, and raised as Rosemary’s twin as part of an experiment by her father, a university professor and psychologist specializing in animal behavior. Rosemary and Fern’s development is observed, diagrammed, analyzed, and is the source of multiple academic studies and published articles and, of course, university funding. Rosemary and Fern develop an unshakeable bond, as they share each other’s unique features—Rosemary’s sensitivity and verbal ability and Fern’s strength and dexterity—as if they are one. But something happens, Rosemary is sent away to her grandparents and when she returns, Fern is gone and the family has moved out of their beloved farmhouse. The lives of everyone—parents, brother, Rosemary and Fern—is never the same, although we don’t learn of Fern’s fate until the last part of the book.
What remains to be told is the beginning and the end, in which we follow the trials and tribulations of “the monkey girl,” as Rosemary is known throughout her school years, and where we ultimately come to understand the guilt, the anger, the rivalry, the blame and the terrible sadness and grief that afflicts all of Rosemary’s family in the aftermath of the “experiment.” The seriousness of the underlying plot notwithstanding, we spend much of our time laughing through the book as we are treated to the author’s delightful writing, filled with classical and literary witticisms, madcap comedic episodes involving ventriloquist dummies and love-sick janitors, as well as penetrating social and scientific commentary on everything from human thought and language to theories on the human/animal divide and man’s unconscionable treatment of the animal kingdom that is supposed to be under his protection.
Fowler has produced a book that will inspire and haunt you for a long time.