Karen Joy Fowler’s fifth novel follows 2004’s The Jane Austen Book Club, which was made into a movie last year. Wit’s End offers themes similar to those found in that very popular book, but takes some mysterious and highly divergent paths along the way.
Rima Lanisell is a 29-year-old high school teacher in Cleveland who has lost her whole family—her mother a long time ago to an aneurysm, her beloved younger brother Oliver four years ago in a car crash, and her father recently to leukemia. Rima’s godmother Addison Early (known as A.B. Early to the fans of her many mystery novels) was once an “old pal” of Rima’s father Bim; Addison invites Rima for a visit to her home in Santa Cruz, California—a rambling old house near the coast called Wit’s End. Rima arrives, not only seeking solace from her unhappy life in Ohio, but also trying to discover clues about the enigma of her father’s life: What was his relationship to Addison all those years ago? Why did Addison have a character named after her father kill three people in one of her most popular books? And what about Addison’s obsession with cults and communes—is it related to Holy City, a real-life commune not far from Wit’s End?
As Rima seeks to unravel clues by studying Addison’s fictional world, she begins to realize how intricately the real world is tied to her godmother’s mysteries, manifested by the countless blogs that dissect each book, and the fans, past and present, who “communicate” with Maxwell Lane, Addison’s famous detective.
This bond between writers and readers, and the link between real life and an author’s work, echo ideas in The Jane Austen Book Club, but Fowler has given her new novel a myriad of contemporary twists, from the machinations of posting and editing on Wikipedia to Addison’s newest endeavor: a website called Murder Capital of the World that revolves around a virtual Maxwell Lane. Fowler obviously had fun with her latest offering, and new fans as well as old are sure to do the same.
Deborah Donovan writes from Cincinnati and La Veta, Colorado.