The Fiction Writer: A Novel
Jillian Cantor’s novel The Fiction Writer starts out with this premise: Olivia Fitzgerald is a writer—a once successful writer, but her most recent story, Becky, is a takeoff on Daphne du Maurier’s wildly successful Rebecca, and her rewrite is a total failure. Depressed and unsure of her writing future, Olivia jumps at the chance of a new gig—ghostwriting for an unimaginably wealthy man.
Olivia lives in New England, and in order to fulfill this new opportunity she must make a temporary move to Malibu and meet Henry (Ash) Asherwood. Ash is young, handsome, wealthy, and a widower.
Her first impression of Ash is that he is warm, gentle, and welcoming to his home. But as the story unfolds, the reader becomes aware that perhaps there is more to Ash than meets the eye. Olivia is slow to recognize the signs that Cantor places throughout the story, and yet Olivia senses there is more to him than initially presented. “Something wasn’t right, something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, or whether it was just my writer brain overthinking again, working up stories that didn’t exist.”
Cantor’s character development is strong but she inserts too many of Olivia’s thoughts about how she is being drawn to Ash romantically. This is not to say that the reader doesn’t need to know about Olivia’s growing attachment, but it feels as though there is way too much.
Ash’s plan is for Olivia to write a memoir about his grandmother, Emelia, and how she claimed to have written the original story of Rebecca, and claims that du Maurier stole and published to great success. As Olivia begins to research Emelia, she discovers that information is insufficient.
As the story progresses, events occur that begin to create worrisome situations for Olivia. She is invited to stay at Ash’s home while she works out a plan for the memoir, and while there she discovers a copy of her own failed book, with the word THIEF written in bold black ink on the inside cover.
Add to that the fact that Ash has promised to provide her with his grandmother’s journal that discusses her version of Rebecca. The journal is written in French, and Ash has sent it out to be translated, but there is always a reason why it has not arrived in a timely manner.
When Olivia begins her own research on Emelia, she discovers that a filmmaker has also begun research and has stolen all of the material on Emelia from a local university library. This leaves Olivia to still rely on the mysterious journal that has yet to appear.
Cantor brings other characters into the story, each of whom presents a new problem for Olivia. Noah, her best friend in college, is working on his own writing career and lives not far from Malibu. “He was my college best friend and writing critique partner . . .” Olivia reconnects with him, and he becomes the strong character she relies on.
Angie, Ash’s housekeeper, presents as an unusual character. Young, attractive, and very cold to Olivia, her presence in the house becomes more mysterious when Olivia is drugged and the most present suspect is Angie. Olivia begins to question Angie’s relationship with Ash, only to discover that she was his dead wife’s sister.
And there is Rose, the third wife of Ash’s grandfather and the only person living who can recall first-hand information about Emelia. And yet Rose is over 90 years old, and her memories are not always clear.
Cantor has designed an interesting plot that, for the most part, moves along at a good pace. There are moments when she presents Olivia as unsure of her job description, unsure of her relationship with Ash, unsure of her relationship with Noah, and unsure for her own safety in Ash’s home. Good clues and foreshadowing for Olivia and the reader to climb through.
Throughout the story, Cantor adds excerpts from a book entitled The Wife. Until the reader reaches the end of the story, it is unclear regarding the relationship between these short story pieces and the current story.
One thing that will be most interesting to the reader, if they are already familiar with Rebecca, is how Cantor incorporates similar scenes from Rebecca into The Fiction Writer—as if Olivia was reliving the story in reality.
Cantor provides enough clues to draw the reader deeper into the story as it develops and to retain interest in the plot.
The ending is as it should be—satisfying with all the loose ends tied up in a bow.
Olivia’s character strength develops as the story unwinds, leaving her strong and comfortable in her own skin at the end of the story. Cantor’s fans will be satisfied with The Fiction Writer and look forward to her next literary excursion.