by Alison Flood)
Karen Joy Fowler's ecstatically received story of a lost sister, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, has won the author the prestigious PEN/Faulkner award for fiction.
With a shocking reveal about the identity of narrator Rosemary's vanished "twin" Fern coming on page 77, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has tied reviewers up in knots as they attempt not to spoil the novel for future readers. Despite this, Fowler's story of a 1970s Midwestern family torn apart by a behavioural psychology experiment has won it adulatory write-ups, from the Guardian's description of the novel as an "achingly funny, deeply serious heart-breaker [and] a moral comedy to shout about from the treetops", to the New York Times's praise as "a novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get". The author has been much less careful herself, giving interviews which have been described as not just "spoiling her own plot, but setting light to it and jumping up and down on it".
Now it has landed Fowler the $15,000 (£9,000) PEN/Faulkner prize, America's largest peer-juried prize for fiction, which has been won in the past by EL Doctorow, Ann Patchett, Philip Roth, John Updike and Annie Proulx. More than 430 novels and short-story collections were considered by judges Madison Smartt Bell, Manuel Muñoz and Achy Obejas, with Fowler's entry beating fellow finalists Daniel Alarcón, Percival Everett, Joan Silber and Valerie Trueblood.
"This superb novel is not only comic and smart, it packs a surprising emotional punch. Fowler captures an altogether new dimension of the meaning – and heartbreak – of family dynamics," said Muñoz. Fellow judge Bell called We Are Completely Beside Ourselves "a book that really does tell us something new about what it is to be human – and what it is not to be".
Fowler's previous six novels include The Jane Austen Book Club and Sister Noon.