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…”

Ah, the hazards of letting a novelist loose in the House!

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.


  1. Merrily on March 9, 2010 at 7:10 am

    I don’t believe I’ve ever fantasized about building a house, but many’s the time I’ve wanted to run away to an remote island!
    Rae is another example of the believable, strong (or resilient) and fully-realized female characters whom Laurie is so skilled at bringing to life.

  2. TheMadLibrarian on March 9, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Rae has many of the qualities I aspire to: self-sufficient, skilled, stubborn, nurturing. Although I wouldn’t want the depression that was an integral part of her character, I admire her abilities (and lust after her wood chisel set!) Her need to build something, including a new life, out of flotsam and assorted bits, struck a chord with me. I think Folly is my favorite standalone LRK book.

  3. Joshua Blackfoot on November 28, 2010 at 9:02 am

    I loved this book! I read mainly murder mystery, suspense and thrillers. Something about the jacket caught my eye. So I got the book on tape and loved it so much I have recomended it to anyone who would lisen.

  4. LeAnna on June 11, 2011 at 9:17 am

    I commute and listen to lots of books. I like Joshua Blackfoot came across this one and fell in love. I have listed to it several times. If I can’t find something else to interest me at the library I always look for FOLLY. I very much would like to purchase a copy for my own library. Please email info. Thanks Laurie I’ve enjoyed every book of yours I’ve read. LeAnna

    • Laurie King on June 12, 2011 at 4:49 am

      Hi LeAnna, glad you’re enjoying hearing the books. I’m assuming you mean you want to purchase a copy of the audio of Folly for your library? All the books are available from Recorded Books–you might check with your librarian to see if they have a special rate for libraries. Thanks for your generosity!

  5. Wanda Ballentne on November 24, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I love all your books, but just recently started on the non-series books, and like “Folly” best of all – however, cannot figure out what Desmond wrote in 1916 that led partially to Rae’s discovery about him. I tried to go back and look through his journal to discover that section but have not found it.

    I also wonder how you earned so much about building a house!!! You clearly know a lot about anything you write – but that seemed much.

    Also, my son had your husband as a teacher at UC Santa Cruz and thus took many of his classes – I went down there and heard him myself.

    Must also confess that I did not like the “Pirate King” though have loved the others. Don’t know why – just didn’t make sense to me. But must start on the other non-series books!

    • Laurie King on November 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Hi Wanda, glad you’re enjoying the books. I can’t remember that there’s anything in Desmond’s writings that led Rae to him, since she found his journals after she came to the island–but being a family member, she would have known about him.

      I have done a fair amount of building, mostly renovating an old farm house in the Watsonville area. My contractor was impressed about the amount I’d picked up, too!

      Sorry you didn’t like Pirate King, hope you liked Garment of Shadows and that you enjoy the upcoming Bones of Paris, a sequel to Touchstone.


  6. Geri Graves on January 14, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed “Folly”. I recommended it to a friend of mine who is a retired Psychiatrist and she liked it so much she decided to read it again. I am going to suggest my book club read it so we can discuss it together. Excellent work, thank you.
    The sequal spent a little too long on the P.T.S. for me, but I understand why it was important to the story and necessary for those who have never watched someone they love struggle with the things the troops endured and suffer from to this day.. Again thank you.

  7. Debi on July 7, 2014 at 11:28 am

    I hate to admit that I read “Folly” one time and it resounded so strongly to me in so many ways (but I couldn’t recall who wrote it – sorry!). I really didn’t recall the name of the book but read it at a pivotal point in my life and it strengthened me, calmed me, encourage me and just “settled” me at a time when I was in doubts about myself (mostly due to other’s general assumptions as to what women should/shouldn’t co). I have been single always and never regretted it, started doing wood working several years ago and have built, repaired, restored, re-made and created a number of things – all to the speculation of others as to why a “woman” would have such a hobby (started all this over 40 years ago now); I live with clinical depression, loss of 3 of the most important people in my life and thoroughly enjoy my solitary lifestyle. I could only remember the book had only one name and have searched for it on and off for 5-6 years now. FINALLY, today a little spark reminded me that it was YOU who created this incredible work that touched my heart, soul and mind. Thank you so much for creating such a strong yet “weak” woman (in the scarier places of the mind). It wasn’t just a “good book” to me, it was life changing and affirming. THANK YOU

    • Laurie King on July 8, 2014 at 6:36 am

      Debi, thank you for this–or rather, THANK YOU, for being one of the readers who keeps me writing. It is humbling to know that I touch people in some small way, and I am so glad you enjoyed my story of this woodworking woman, and her weaknesses and strengths. I wish you much joy in your own follies, and your art.

  8. Carol on August 18, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I purchased Folly in a bookstore in Lisbon. Read it on the flight home and absolutely loved it. I shared it with all my friends (and lost it!) It was years later that I discovered Mary Russell and thrilled to realize it was the same author. Thank you Ms. King for sharing your talent. You don’t touch people in a small way. Reading your books has been like adding a secret wing to my home.

    • Laurie King on August 20, 2014 at 7:16 am

      Carol, thanks for this–funnily, I’ve just been re-reading Locked Rooms (background for Mary Russell’s War) and thinking about that secret room…

  9. Alexis on January 27, 2015 at 7:55 am

    I just finished this read, and it’s great! Certainly one of my favourites.
    But (isn’t there always a but?) to end a suspenseful story midsentence is just cruel! I am pacing my livingroom unable to let go of the scene that ended so abruptly. I have serious doubts I will sleep tonight. Or that I will ever forgive you.
    Is there no conclusion to this story?
    Thank you for all the great stories you write!

    • Laurie King on January 27, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Hmm, I’m not sure what you mean here. Folly ends with the words, “Newborn’s Sanctuary.” Does your copy? If not, there may have been a printer error.
      I should also mention that Keeping Watch is a sort-of sequel.

      • Alexis on January 27, 2015 at 11:16 am

        Mine doesn’t! What a relieve!
        I guess I got a little upset because of the abrupt ending in my copy, I should have realized that one doesn’t end a book with the main character and her granddaughter in the middle of an escape through a window.
        I’ll contact the shop where I got the book and ask for another one.

        • Laurie King on January 27, 2015 at 11:23 am

          Oh no! I’m so glad you wrote to ask about this, what a shock indeed!

  10. Marita Murphy on February 21, 2015 at 7:38 am

    I have just re-read Folly for the 50th + time……. I love revisiting this wonderful old familiar, challenging and comforting friend. Each character, each location, the evolving house, the past and the present evoked in this story are like a wise and well loved guide who give me something new every time I visit. Thank you.

  11. Gerlinde on July 26, 2015 at 6:04 am

    Dear Laurie

    many regards from Germany, Black Forest. I just finished to read Folly for the 2nd time and I am still so fascinated as I was when reading it for the 1st time.
    I simply love your many ideas woven into the book’s story and of course the intensive knowledge of the topics you talk about. Congrats! You are really a master of writing. Being a writer myself I take your book to learn more about suspense. Thank you so much


    • Laurie King on July 26, 2015 at 6:58 am

      Thank you, Gerlinde–and isn’t it great that a story by a Californian, about the Puget Sound area, touches a person in the Black Forest? The planet is both very large, and very small.

  12. Anne McWilliams on December 3, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I loved this book when it was new, I have read it again and again, and given it to others. I find myself in the “drear and dire” place now, and my thoughts often turn to Rae’s story, almost fifteen years later. I am away from my personal library now, but I am going to go to my local community library and find it there and read it again. Thank you for bringing this story, this character who has become such an inspiration to me, into being.

  13. Marie Z on May 31, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    I am not sure how I missed this book when it came out! 31 years ago I gave up the most lucrative job I ever had (in a big city I did not like) and moved with my cats to SJI with no clue what I was going to do when I got there (my job skills were not transferable to a rural island). It was the best leap of faith ever. Every day I am still awes by this amazing place that has truly become my home.

    Your book does ring true…can I ask how you became interested in the San Juan Islands? How long did you spend visiting? I am delighted to be enjoying your books…and it looks like I have more books to look forward to reading!

    • Laurie King on June 9, 2021 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Marie–I’m glad to hear your leap of faith worked out, and that you found a welcome there. I met the San Juans when I was a kid living near Tacoma, when we used to camp there (without the 6-month-beforehand reservations now needed!) And returned there for a time when I was researching the book, how I suffer for my art.
      I’d love to write another one…if nothing else, for the excuse of doing another stint of that hard research.
      Enjoy your reading!

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