What I Didn’t See and Other Stories

World Fantasy Award winner

Read a story now: “Standing Room Only” · “Always

In her moving and elegant new collection, New York Times bestseller Karen Joy Fowler writes about John Wilkes Booth’s younger brother, a one-winged man, a California cult, and a pair of twins, and she digs into our past, present, and future in the quiet, witty, and incisive way only she can.

The sinister and the magical are always lurking just below the surface: for a mother who invents a fairy-tale world for her son in “Halfway People”; for Edwin Booth in “Booth’s Ghost,” haunted by his fame as “America’s Hamlet” and his brother’s terrible actions; for Norah, a rebellious teenager facing torture in the Shirley Jackson Award winning “The Pelican Bar” as she confronts Mama Strong, the sadistic boss of a rehabilitation facility; for the narrator recounting her descent in “What I Didn’t See.”

With clear and insightful prose, Fowler’s stories measure the human capacities for hope and despair, brutality and kindness. This collection, which includes two Nebula Award winners and some stories which have been significantly rewritten since first publication, is sure to delight readers, even as it pulls the rug out from underneath them.

Table of Contents

The Pelican Bar
Booth’s Ghost
The Last Worders
The Dark
Familiar Birds
Private Grave 9
The Marianas Islands
Halfway People
Standing Room Only
What I Didn’t See
King Rat



“The bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club goes genre-busting in this engrossing and thought-provoking set of short stories that mix history, sci-fi, and fantasy elements with a strong literary voice. Whether examining the machinations of a Northern California cult, in “Always,” or a vague but obviously horrific violent act in the eerie title story, the PEN/Faulkner finalist displays a gift for thrusting familiar characters into bizarre, off-kilter scenarios. Fowler never strays from the anchor of human emotion that makes her characters so believable, even when chronicling the history of epidemics, ancient archeological digs, single family submersibles, or fallen angels. She even displays a keen understanding of the historical world around Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, in two wonderfully realized historical pieces. Her writing is sharp, playful, and filled with insights into the human condition. The genre shifts might surprise fans of her mainstream hit, but within these pages they’ll find familiar dramas and crises that entertain, illuminate, and question the reality that surrounds us.”
Publishers Weekly

Praise for Karen Joy Fowler:

“No contemporary writer creates characters more appealing, or examines them with greater acuity and forgiveness.”
—Michael Chabon

“Fowler’s witty writing is a joy to read.”—USA Today

Karen Joy Fowler is the author of six novels, including We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Wit’s End, and The Jane Austen Book Club, which spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, was a New York Times Notable Book, and was adapted as a major motion picture from Sony Pictures. Her novel Sister Noon was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and her short-story collection Black Glass won the World Fantasy Award. She has co-edited three volumes of The James Tiptree Award Anthology. Fowler and her husband, who have two grown children, live in Santa Cruz, California.

Publication History

These stories were originally published as follows:

The Pelican Bar, Eclipse 3, 2009
Booth’s Ghost appears here for the first time.
The Last Worders, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet 20, 2007
The Dark, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1991
Always, Asimov’s Science Fiction, April-May 2007
Familiar Birds, Journal of Mythic Arts, Spring 2006
Private Grave 9, McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, 2003
The Marianas Islands, Intersections: The Sycamore Hill Anthology, 1996
Halfway People, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, 2010
Standing Room Only, Asimov’s Science Fiction, August 1997
What I Didn’t See, SciFiction, 2002
King Rat, Trampoline, 2003

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