Each Tuesday during this spring’s Twenty Weeks of Buzz, I’m talking about a different one of my twenty books, with remarks and reflections about the writing process. This is the eleventh week, so I’ll be looking at Folly, published in 2001, which won the Macavity award and the Washington State Award.
Sometimes, a book’s greatest review does not come in print. Folly garnered some fine reviews from important journals, but the one I was proudest of was the comment that, following the release of an in-house advanced reading copy, the Random House elevators were filled with wistful conversations that ran the line of, “You know, I was thinking of taking some time off and maybe building a place…”
Rae Newborne is not so named by an accident. Folly is the story of a woman who builds her house, and herself, under circumstances that straddle the line between drear and dire: her family lost, her blood chemistry ruled by antidepressants, a woman to whom extreme solitude is a positive alternative to the life she leads. Her decision is based on the feeling that, contrary to Dunne, a woman can be an island: bleak, solitary, silent.
But, surrounded by other islands.
What makes a community? Flying over the vast middle of this country, time and again one sees the lines of an east-west road bisected by a north-south road, and there springs up a cluster of houses. With all the miles in between to settle, people choose to live with neighbors.
And in an aquatic terrain, people come together in their solitude, and make a community. Realize, this was a novelist’s fancy when the book was written, but I was fascinated to discover, when I was asked to the San Juans for a community read of Folly, to discover that I had it more or less right, and that the islanders recognized themselves in the pages of the book. Up to and including, I was delighted to hear, a knowing recognition of someone very like the character of Ed, the tattooed philosopher-boatman who delivers many…necessities of life among the island’s residents.