Wit's End

( 12 )

Overview

"[A] delightful and eccentric new tale"(The Boston Globe) from the author of the runaway bestseller The Jane Austen Book Club

In Karen Joy Fowler's newest novel, the bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club once again delivers top-notch storytelling, creating characters both oddball and endearing in a voice that is utterly and memorably her own. Wit's End is a clever, playful novel about finally allowing oneself to grow up-with a dash of...

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Overview

"[A] delightful and eccentric new tale"(The Boston Globe) from the author of the runaway bestseller The Jane Austen Book Club

In Karen Joy Fowler's newest novel, the bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club once again delivers top-notch storytelling, creating characters both oddball and endearing in a voice that is utterly and memorably her own. Wit's End is a clever, playful novel about finally allowing oneself to grow up-with a dash of mystery thrown in.

At loose ends and weary from her recent losses-the deaths of an inventive if at times irritating father and her beloved brother-Rima Lansill comes to Wit's End, the home of her legendary godmother, bestselling mystery writer Addison Early, to regroup...and in search of answers. For starters, why did Addison name one of her characters-a murderer-after Rima's father? But Addison is secretive and feisty, so consumed with protecting her famous fictional detective, Maxwell Lane, from the vagaries of the Internet that-rumor has it- she has writer's block. As one woman searches for truth, the other struggles to control the reality of her fiction.

Rima soon becomes enmeshed in Addison's household of eccentrics: a formerly alcoholic cook and her irksome son, two quirky dog-walkers, a mysterious stalker, the tiny characters that populate Addison's dollhouse crime-scene replicas, and even Maxwell Lane himself. But, wrapped up in a mystery that may or may not be of her own creation, Rima discovers to her surprise that the ultimate solution to this puzzle is the new family she has found at the house called Wit's End.

Playfully exploring the blurred boundaries between reality and virtual reality, fiction and fact, Karen Joy Fowler subverts the whodunit and gives us a thoroughly modern meta-mystery with wit, warmth, and heart.

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Editorial Reviews

Beth Gutcheon
She has a voice like no other, lyrical, shrewd and addictive, with a quiet deadpan humor that underlies almost every sentence.
Newsday
Margot Livesey
What strikes one first is the voice: robust, sly, witty, elegant, unexpected and never boring. Here is a novelist who absolutely comprehends the pleasures of imagination and transformation.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

At the start of this quietly funny, slightly mysterious novel of discovering one's roots from bestseller Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club), 29-year-old Rima Lanisell visits her estranged godmother, Addison Early, in Addison's house by the sea, Wit's End, in storied Santa Cruz, Calif. Addison, the wildly successful but cautiously private author of the Maxwell Lane mysteries, was once the girlfriend of Rima's recently deceased father, Bim, for whom a character in the series is named. For each novel, Addison first constructs a dollhouse diorama that depicts what will be the principal murder scene, but her upcoming novel and its dollhouse are uncharacteristically delayed. By weeding through decades-old correspondence with eccentric fans and the contemporary channels of online forums, Rima slowly discovers the truth behind Addison's novels and that Rima herself is a topic of interest among Maxwell Lane devotees. As Fowler analyzes our modern-day relationship to novels and writers' relationship to their readers, the line between fiction and reality blurs-real people become characters in another's blog as fictional characters become real to the fans that fetishize them. Author tour. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

In a change of pace from her best-selling The Jane Austen Book Club, Fowler has written a mystery that's barely a mystery but is every bit an absorbing and funny novel. Rima, a woman who has mastered the art of losing (including her mother, brother, and father) arrives in Santa Cruz, CA, to stay with her godmother, the famous and reclusive mystery writer Addison Early, whose book titles and plots provide chuckles throughout. Rima wants to learn the truth of the nature of the relationship between Addison and Rima's father, Bim, who might have been complicit in an old murder, as implied in one of Addison's novels. Yet the greater mystery turns out to be Addison, who seeks to protect her privacy and her works from her increasingly intrusive fans. One of the most refreshing things about Fowler's witty novel is its currency. At one point, Addison remarks that today's novels are unreliable guides to daily life since no one in them watches television. Indeed, Fowler's own characters write blogs, read message boards, watch YouTube, and consult (and even edit) Wikipedia. This insightful and engaging book is recommended for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/07.]
—Amy Watts Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
A prickly, computer-age take on the mystery genre, from Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club, 2004, etc.). Twenty-nine-year-old Ohio schoolteacher Rima Lanisell comes to Santa Cruz, Calif., to stay with her godmother Addison Early. The famous author of a mystery series featuring detective Maxwell Lane, Addison is an eccentric who creates a dollhouse miniature of her crime scene before actually writing each novel. Rima is curious about Addison's relationship and eventual falling out with Rima's recently deceased father, a well-respected journalist whose name Addison used for the wife-murderer in one of her novels. Shortly after Rima's arrival at Addison's house, a wayward fan steals a miniature body from one of the dollhouses. While Rima becomes obsessed with hunting down the perpetrator, that theft seems as close to scary crime as the novel is going to get. Although Rima is mourning not only her father's but also her adored, risk-taking only brother's death, the tone remains light and mocking (and predictably, though jarringly, hostile to the Bush administration). Addison's household includes a cast of gently comical updated gothic stereotypes, including a housekeeper with a shady past, her alienated son and a blogging dog-walker who informs Rima that Addison and Maxwell Lane are popular topics online. Logging on, Rima soon finds the distinction between fact and fiction blurring in regard to her father, Addison and even herself. Along the way she finds a stash of fan letters sent to Maxwell. She writes back to one in Maxwell's name. She also begins wondering how her father knew the letter writer, once a member of a local right-wing religious cult. Only astute readers will wade through thesometimes annoying barrage of disjointed, quirky twists to find the hints planted that there may once have been a real murder involving the cult, and that Rima's father may have been involved. Fowler's clever insights eventually sink in as more profound than they initially seemed. Agent: Wendy Weil/Wendy Weil Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452290068
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 995,231
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Joy Fowler

Karen Joy Fowler, A PEN/Faulkner and Dublin IMPAC nominee, is the author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Sarah Canary, The Sweetheart Season, Wit's End, Black Glass: Short Fictions, and Sister Noon.

Biography

A genre such as science fiction, with its deeply committed fans and otherworldly subject matter, tends to stand apart from the rest of the book world. So when one writer manages to push the boundaries and achieve success with both sci-fi and mainstream fiction readers, it's a feat that signals she's worth paying attention to.

In terms of subject matter, Karen Joy Fowler is all over the map. Her first novel, 1991's Sarah Canary, is the story of the enigmatic title character, set in the Washington Territory in 1873. A Chinese railway worker's attempt to escort Sarah back to the insane asylum he believes she came from turns into more than he bargained for. Fowler weaves race and women's rights into the story, and it could be another historical novel -- except for a detail Fowler talks about in a 2004 interview. "I think for science fiction readers, it's pretty obvious that Sarah Canary is an alien," Fowler says. Yet other readers are dumbfounded by this news, seeing no sign of it. For her part, Fowler refuses to make a declaration either way.

Sarah Canary was followed in 1996 by The Sweetheart Season, a novel about a 1950s women's baseball league that earned comparisons to Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon works; and the 2001 novel Sister Noon, which Fowler called "a sort of secret history of San Francisco." For all three novels, critics lauded Fowler for her originality and compelling storytelling as she infused her books with elements of fantasy and well-researched history.

In 2004, Fowler released her first contemporary novel, The Jane Austen Book Club. It dealt with five women and one man reading six of Austen's novels over a six-month period, and earned still more praise for Fowler. The New York Times called the novel shrewd and funny; The Washington Post said, "It's... hard to explain quite why The Jane Austen Book Club is so wonderful. But that it is wonderful will soon be widely recognized, indeed, a truth universally acknowledged." Though Fowler clearly wrote the book with Austen fans in mind – she too loves the English author of classics such as Pride and Prejudice -- knowledge of Austen's works is not a prerequisite for enjoyment.

Readers who want to learn more about Fowler's sci-fi side should also seek out her short story collections. Black Glass (1999) is not a strictly sci-fi affair, but it is probably the most readily available; her Web site offers a useful bibliography of stories she has published in various collections and sci-fi journals, including the Nebula Award-winning "What I Didn't See."

Fowler also continues to be involved with science fiction as a co-founder of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, designed to honor "science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender." The award has spawned two anthologies, which Fowler has taken part in editing.

Whether or not Fowler moves further in the direction of mainstream contemporary fiction, she clearly has the flexibility and skill as a writer to retain fans no matter what. Her "category" as a writer may be fluid, but it doesn't seem to make a difference to readers who discover her unique, absorbing stories and get wrapped up in them.

Good To Know

In our interview, Fowler shared some fun facts about herself with us:

"The first thing I ever wanted to be was a dog breeder. Instead I've had a succession of eccentric pound rescues. My favorite was a Keeshond Shepherd mix, named Tamara Press after the Russian shot-putter. Tamara went through college with me, was there when I married, when I had children. She was like Nana in Peter Pan; we were a team. I'm too permissive to deal with spaniels or hounds, as it turns out. Not that I haven't had them, just that I lose the alpha advantage."

"I have cats, too. But I can't talk about them. They don't like it."

"I'm not afraid of spiders or snakes, at least not the California varieties. But I can't watch scary movies. That is, I can watch them, but I can't sleep after, so mostly I don't. Unless I'm tricked. I mention no names. You know who you are."

"I loved the television show The Night Stalker when it was on. Also The Greatest American Hero. And I Spy. And recently Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except for the final year."

"I do the crossword puzzle in the Nation every week. I don't like other crossword puzzles, only that one. It takes me two days on average."

"I take yoga classes. I eat sushi. I walk the dog. I spend way too much time on email. Mostly I read."

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    1. Hometown:
      Davis, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 7, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bloomington, Indiana
    1. Education:
      B.A., The University of California, Berkeley, 1972; M.A., The University of California, Davis, 1974

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 13 of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2008

    A Witty Literary Mystery!

    Mysteries are my weakness, and the whole idea of the doll-house murder scenes in Wit's End was so delightful to start with that I was drawn right in. Fowler sets off in a voice that is fresh and original, stirring in quirky characters with great names like Scorch - some of whom are 'real,' some of whom are characters in books within the book, and some of whom are both. The funky Santa Cruz scene and a cult outpost called Holy City are as fascinating on the page as the real Santa Cruz is. And when a mini-murder corps (named Thomas Grand) mysteriously disappears, the fun really begins. As Rima - one of those characters who both is real and fictional, at least in some fans' minds! - tries to uncover the truth about her family, the reader is treated to wonderfully funny and true insights about human nature and the way we behave online and off. Wit's End is without a doubt one of the freshest, most original books I've read this year!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2008

    A Great Summer Read

    After the death of her father (expected), Rima Lannisell moves from Cleveland, Ohio to Santa Cruz, California to stay with her godmother, famous mystery author, A.B. Early a woman whom she hardly knows. During her stay, Rima plans to find out just what the story is behind Addison's relationship with her father. The majority of the plot focuses on Rima becoming embroiled in her own 'Maxwell Lane' mystery, making it sometimes difficult to tell what is 'real' and what is fantasy. During Rima's quest to find out about the relationship between Addison and her deceased father, Rima finds herself becoming a detective with the help of Addison's fictional detective, Maxwell Lane. Much of the plot centers around letters written during the early times of Addisons career from a woman named Constance Wellington, who lived in Holy City - a transformed cult. The reader soon finds that Addison is quite obsessed with cults. Most of the time, Rima is a self-pitying woman who continues to mourn the death of her brother, Oliver, who's been dead about four years. Personally, I found Rima the least likable character of the bunch, but it didn't interfere with the reading of the novel. Fowler interlaces humorous characters (with Addison Early, herself, and other secondary characters) while still making them appear as real as can be. The commentary about online blogs and 'everyone being a writer' (through Addison) is hilarious and oh-so true. The plot ties together neatly at the end, but also wants you to hope for more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2014

    Huh?

    The.mystery is mundaine. Keep waiting for something to happen, it never did.

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  • Posted July 3, 2010

    Wit's End by Karen Joy Fowler

    I definitely enjoyed this book. The characters were very endearing, the plot was very original and the author's writing style is very pleasant.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    I was disappointed

    I really liked "The Jane Austin's Book Club" and looked forward to reading this novel. But I didn't enjoy this one as much. I never could figure out if the main protaganist was an older woman or a 20-something- that didn't seem clear to me-but maybe I missed something.
    I hope this author's next novel/short stories will be more entertaining.

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Mixed feelings

    I got engrossed in this title when I first encountered the mystery aspect of it and thought it would turn out to be one in fact. It is o.k. that it isn't a mystery even though it wanted to be! I got lost toward the middle of it because of the incomplete descriptions of how why the main character was at her aunt's house in the first place. When the internet aspect came into play, that's when I started to sense the contemporary effort behind the work. I was vaguely unsatisfied with the ending...not enough actual 'blood and gore' that one comes to look for in a real mystery.

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  • Posted April 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The storyline focuses on how much change has occurred in communications due to the Internet

    In Santa Cruz, California, twenty-nine years old Rima Lanisell visits her godmother mystery writer Addison Early at the latter's oceanfront house Wit's End. Addison is extremely popular for her Maxwell Lane mysteries, but is somewhat a recluse. Her former boyfriend Bim is a recurring character in her novels even as she mourns his recent death; as does his daughter Rima although the latter grieves her brother much more although he died four years ago.-----------

    For every one of her mysteries Addison creates a dollhouse display of the prime murder scene. However, as her deadline comes closer, she has not started her prototype. Meanwhile Rima has gone through years old correspondence especially fascinated by those involving Constance Wellington of the Holy City cult stronghold, and the dedicated online discussion boards to learn the truth behind the Maxwell Lane novels; she is shocked that even she is a subject of fan discussion. The more she learns about her godmother, her father, and others; the less she understands.----------------

    The storyline focuses on how much change has occurred in communications due to the Internet as once an author and a fan might relate one to one, but now a fan can communicate with many other fans instantly. Addison is a terrific character who brings a sense of ironic humor to the mix while her fab fans dissect every comma in her seeking nuances of universal truisms. Rima is not as likable as her godmother, as she wears her grief as armor, but she is the catalyst with her slight probing into the past. WIT'S END is an engaging profound tale with a wry wit that makes the case fame is no longer fifteen minutes since the Internet makes celebrity status seemingly eternal even when the hits stop coming.---------

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2009

    Didn't get the point

    I just didn't get the point of this book. I kept reading only out of a vague curiousity about what would happen. My high school English teacher taught me that every story needs a climax, but I guess if this book had one, I missed it. The story just meandered along, and it never grabbed my attention. It wasn't bad reading... just wasn't very satisfying.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 3, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Clever, But Not Much of a Plot

    I got about halfway through this book, and enjoyed some great laughs, but the story seemed to wander so much it couldn't hold my interest. It was also a bit vague as to exactly what the mystery was. I believe the lead character, a young woman named Rima, is trying to find out more about her deceased father. Eccentric characters abound, and the author knows how to deliver some hilarious one-liners. I just prefer something with more suspense.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2008

    I totally enjoyed this novel

    This book was a pleasure to read. Such witty writing and interesting premise. It would be a fabulous book club choice.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 13 of 12 Customer Reviews

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