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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Jocelyn went out by the pool and sat in one of the lounge chairs. She knew that she'd been unforgivably mean to Steven, wished she'd never met him. She wasn't wearing stockings and her legs were cold. She could smell her own Wind Song perfume mixing with the chlorine.

Music floated over the pool. "Duke of Earl." "I Want to Hold Your Hand." "There is a house in New Orleans." Bryan sat down on the end of her chair, making her blood skip. Probably she was in love with him.

"Aren't you the thing?" he said. The only light around them came from under the water and was blue. He was turned away, so she didn't see his face, but his voice was full of contempt. "There's a word for girls like you."

Jocelyn hadn't known this, hadn't even known there were girls like her. Whatever the word was, he didn't say it.

"You had those boys in such a fever. Did you like that? I bet you liked it. Did you know they used to be best friends? They hate each other now."

She was so ashamed. She'd known all summer there was something wrong with the way she was behaving, but she hadn't known what it was. She had liked it. Now she understood that the liking it was the wrong part.

Bryan gripped one of her ankles hard enough so that the next morning she had a bruise where his thumb had been. He slid the other hand up her leg. "You asked for this," he said. "You know you did." His fingers grabbed at her panties, pushed them aside. She felt the slick surface of his nails. She didn't tell him not to. She was too ashamed to move. His finger found its way inside her. He shifted his weight until he lay over her. He was wearing the same bay aftershave her father had worn.

"Bryan?" His girlfriend's voice, over by the clubhouse. "True Love Ways" playing on the turntable-Jocelyn would never like Buddy Holly again, even though he was dead, poor guy-the girlfriend calling. "Bryan? Bryan!" Bryan slid his finger out, let go of her. He stood up, shaking his jacket into place and smoothing his hair. He put his finger into his mouth while she watched, took it out. "We'll catch up later," he told her.

Jocelyn walked down the watery path through the torches and out to the road. The country club was in the country, up a long hill. It took twenty minutes to drive there. The roads twisted and had no sidewalks and were surrounded by trees. Jocelyn started home.

She was wearing sandals with one-inch heels. She'd painted her toenails, and in the moonlight, her toes looked as if they'd been dipped in blood. Already there was a raw spot on the back of one heel. She was very frightened, because ever since camp she'd lived in a world with communists and rapists and serial killers. Whenever she heard a car coming, she stepped away from the road and crouched until it passed. The headlights were like searchlights. She pretended she was someone innocent, someone who hadn't asked for anything. She pretended she was a deer. She pretended she was a Chippewa. She pretended she was on the Trail of Tears, an event Sylvia had recounted in vivid if erroneous detail.

She thought she'd be home before her mother left to pick them up. All she had to do was go downhill. But in the beam of a passing car, suddenly she didn't recognize anything. At the bottom of the hill was a crossroads she never came to, and now she was going up, which she shouldn't be doing, even for a short time. There were no street signs, no houses. She kept going forward only because she was too ashamed to go back. Hours passed. Finally she found a small gas station, which was closed, and a pay phone, which was working. As she dialed she was sure her mother wouldn't answer. Her mother might be out, frantically looking for her. She might have packed all her clothes into the car while Jocelyn was at the dance, and moved away.

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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