Excerpt from The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Jane Austen Book Club

by Karen Joy Fowler

The Jane Austen Book Club
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2004, 288 pages
    May 2005, 288 pages

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The barking outside ascended into hysteria. Sahara rose and walked stiffly to the screen door, her ridge bristling like a toothbrush.

"Why isn't Knightley more appealing?" Jocelyn began. "He has so many good qualities. Why don't I warm to him?"

We could hardly hear her; she had to repeat herself. The conditions were such, really, that we should have been discussing Jack London. . . .

Most of what we knew about Jocelyn came from Sylvia. Little Jocelyn Morgan and little Sylvia Sanchez had met at a Girl Scout camp when they were eleven years old, and they were fifty-something now. They'd both been in the Chippewa cabin, working on their wood-lore badges. They had to make campfires from teepees of kindling, and then cook over them, and then eat what they'd cooked; the requirement wasn't satisfied unless the Scout cleaned her plate. They had to identify leaves and birds and poisonous mushrooms. As if any one of them would ever eat a mushroom, poisonous or not.

For their final requirement they'd been taken in teams of four to a clearing ten minutes off and left to find their own way back. It wasn't hard, they'd been given a compass and a hint: The dining hall was southwest of them.

Camp lasted four weeks, and every Sunday Jocelyn's parents drove up from the city-three and a half hours-to bring her the Sunday funnies. "Everyone liked her anyway," Sylvia said. This was hard to believe, even for us, and we all liked Jocelyn a ton. "She was attractively ill informed."

Jocelyn's parents adored her so, they couldn't bear to see her unhappy. She'd never been told a story with a sad ending. She knew nothing about DDT or Nazis. She'd been kept out of school during the Cuban missile crisis because her parents didn't want her learning we had enemies.

"It fell to us Chippewas to tell her about communists," said Sylvia. "And child molesters. The Holocaust. Serial killers. Menstruation. Escaped lunatics with hooks for hands. The Bomb. What had happened to the real Chippewas.

"Of course, we didn't have any of it right. What a mash of misinformation we fed her. Still, it was realer than what she got at home. And she was very game, you had to admire her.

"It all came crashing down on the day we had to find our way back to camp. She had this paranoid fantasy that while we were hiking and checking our compass, they were packing up and moving out. That we would come upon the cabin and the dining hall and the latrines, but all the people would be gone. Even more, that there would be dust and spiderwebs and crumbling floorboards. It would be as if the camp had been abandoned for a hundred years. We might have told her too many Twilight Zone plots.

"But here's the weird part. On the last day, her parents came to pick her up, and on the drive back, they told her that they'd gotten divorced over the summer. In fact, she'd been sent off just for this purpose. All those Sunday drives together bringing the funnies, and they couldn't actually stand each other. Her dad was living in a hotel in San Francisco and had been the whole month she was gone. 'I eat all my meals in the hotel restaurant,' he told her. 'I just come down for breakfast and order whatever catches my fancy.' Jocelyn said he made it sound as though that were the only reason he'd moved out, because restaurant eating would be so swell. She felt she'd been traded for shirred eggs."

One day several years later he called her to say he had a touch of the flu. Nothing for her to worry her darling head about. They had tickets to a baseball game, but he didn't think he could make it, he'd have to take a rain check. Go, Giants! It turned out the flu was a heart attack. He didn't get to the hospital until he was already dead.

"No wonder she grew up a bit of a control freak," Sylvia said. With love. Jocelyn and Sylvia had been best friends for more than forty years. . . .

From The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, copyright © 2004 Karen Joy Fowler, published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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