Saturday, January 25, 2020

Wit's End by Karen Joy Fowler

Like the two other books by Karen Joy Fowler I’ve read, Wit’s End is a delight. It is a mystery, but, like those others, it comments on its genre while being an excellent example of it. It also functions as a very early cautionary tale of trying to control your narrative, either fictional characters or the perception of your own actions, particularly in the age of the internet, which was just taking its shape when Wit’s End was published in 2008. It very subtly comments on its own structure. It pays everything off like a proper mystery. It’s a moving portrait of people dealing with grief. It’s also very funny.

Rima Lansill, 29, is grieving the death of her entire immediate family. To get away from things, she goes to live for a time with her godmother, the famous mystery author Addison Early. Early is an estranged friend of Rima’s late father, a famous journalist and columnist. In order to write her mysteries, Early creates miniature dollhouses laying out the crime scenes in great detail, and then spins the story out of those. Early is also very concerned with controlling the narrative about her most famous character, Maxwell Lane, going so far as to get into wikipedia editing wars with fans. Rima’s father was written as a character, the murderer, in one of Early’s books, and both Rima and Early are extremely uncomfortable with the fanfiction that springs up around that. Even in the age of Myspace and when blogs were what podcasts are now, there is a real sense of the futility of trying to maintain any sense of the truth in the barrage of conflicting information spoken in certainty. There is a stalker, and a cult, and no immediately obvious murder. And yet there is narrative tension as Rima gets to know her godmother and the people around her and tries to figure out what exactly happened between Early and her father. All of the characters are working through some kind of grief. There’s even a touch of contemporary/near future science fiction towards the end. And again, it’s a very funny book.

Fowler can apparently write compelling works in any genre. The Jane Austen Book Club is excellent women’s commercial fiction. This is a very good mystery. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is great literary scifi, or at least great fiction about science (and is overdue a reread). All have well drawn characters, good prose, great structure and great wit. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Highly Recommended.

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 9/75.

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