To be perfectly honest, this is a book written for a very specific group of people. I happen to be one of those people, or this would have been a three- or four-star review, most likely. However, if you’re following this blog, chances are you’re one of those people, too, so this book might be worth your while.
The Writing Class is a book written for anyone who has ever been in, you guessed it, a writing class. Speaking as someone who’s been in about a hundred, I can’t even tell you how on point Willett’s story is. But it’s also just a ripping good read.
The Writing Class is a murder mystery for writers and book nerds (so hi, obviously this is the perfect book for me). It follows Amy Gallup, a has-been novelist who’s spent the last ten years or so writing blurbs and an unsatisfactory blog and teaching adult writing courses in order to pay the bills. But her newest group is a surprisingly interesting bunch. They’re smart and eclectic and (in some cases) talented, but most interestingly, there’s a psychopath among them. It starts with a blistering mockery of another student’s work, a devastating anonymous critique, and then escalates to cruel practical jokes and eventually – murder. At the center of the mayhem sits Gallup, struggling to piece together the identity of ‘The Sniper,’ with only textual clues to follow.
Eventually the whole class gets on board, despite the fact that they’ve been officially disbanded. Using Gallup’s critical process, they collectively examine the Sniper’s work, hoping to identify the culprit. It’s difficult work, because nobody can be trusted, and personal feelings get in the way of objective investigation.
It’s a smart, fast-paced story, to be sure. But that’s not why I enjoyed it so much. Willett’s portrait of the typical writing class is what sold me. It’s so absolutely on point that I laughed out loud on more than one occasion and found myself saying, “Oh my God, I know that person.” Even funnier (and slightly more surprising) was when I looked at once of Gallup’s pupils and said, “Oh my God, that’s me.” (I’m Chuck, if anyone who’s read the book is wondering.) Willett has the perfect cast of budding writers – from the overly PC feminist warrior always looking for a fight to that one guy who’s only ever brilliant by accident. In Gallup’s writing class you will find everyone you’ve ever been in a writing class with. Not to mention, the atmosphere is so perfectly constructed that I found myself actually picturing the last classroom I had a writing class in – identical down to the detail of the box fan that’s always just a little too loud.
If you’ve ever been in a writing class, you need to read this book. If you’ve ever considered taking a writing class, you need to read this book. If you like books, you need to read this book. If you’ve never done any of those things
why are you here you should read it anyway.
Five stars. Find it on Goodreads here, and look forward to quotes like this:
You might ask yourself why you want to surprise your readers in the first place. A surprise ending is sort of like a surprise party. Probably some people, somewhere, enjoy having friends and trusted colleagues lunge at them in the sudden blinding light of their own living room, but I don’t think most of us do.
I loved Jincy Willet’s hilarious second book about aging novelist and writing instructor Amy Gallup so much that I doubled back to read this first one. While this has the same main character and I enjoyed it a lot, The Writing Class is very different from its sequel and I liked the second book more. Amy Falls Down is absurd, funny, insightful, and moving, and while The Writing class has all of those qualities they aren’t as strong and it’s first and foremost a mystery--an element that is not part of the second book about Amy Gallup at all.
As a mystery, The Writing Class is a curious but interesting hybrid, part humorous cozy and part chilling psychological thriller. I have a low fear threshold so I may not be a good judge, but some sections of this book were the most chilling, scary reading I have done for a while. Guessing who the likely suspect was didn’t dissipate my unease at all--which greatly impresses me. Another very cool thing about this book is that Amy uses her skill as a writer and instructor of fiction to solve the crime. Both books featuring Amy Gallup would be great for wanna-be or beginning authors because a lot of discussion about the process of fiction writing is seamlessly integrated into the plot.
As a side note, Amy Gallup, fictional character, has a website with the off putting title GO AWAY which includes crazy lists, mash-up titles with crossbred plot descriptions, and links to nowhere. It turns out Jincy Willet, real life novelist, has a similarly eccentric website, I WOULD NOT BURN THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA FOR YOU, that’s worth checking out if you enjoy her writing.
This book is so funny I kept losing my place because I was laughing so hard, and I almost never laugh out loud while reading. Amy Gallup is an aging, has-been novelist, who never really broke through to the big time anyway, but that’s fine with her. Amy embraces her uncompromising lack of ambition and, far from seeking fame, she arranges her life for complete anonymity, even burying links to her out of print novels behind a series of obscure questions on her website. She has her opinionated Basset Hound Alphonse, her devoted writing students--not that she craves anyone’s admiration, but she does need an income and a little company--and a nice quiet life. Then she’s interviewed while still not quite in her right mind after falling and hitting her head and the world begins to take notice. One thing leads to another until, horror of horrors, she becomes a sought after celebrity expected to fly around the country to do media appearances and conference speeches.
Though the story sounds like it might be just absurd, it has more substance than that. It’s elevated by Amy’s piercingly apt and intelligent (and usually, yes, hilarious) observations about the world and people around her, and by Amy’s need to confront past issues she had years ago chosen to avoid.
Amy Falls Down is the second book Jincy Willett has written featuring Amy Gallup, but while I now can’t wait to get my hands on the first it was fine to read them out of order. The other Amy novel is a murder mystery, which has really piqued my interest because, at least on the surface, that’s very different from this second book and I want to see how the author handles it.
AMY FALLS DOWN by Jincy Willet After a slow start I really found myself enjoying the witty (though very dry) humor in this book. Amy grows on you as you discover more of her character and background. I especially enjoyed the names of the chapters, trying to see if I could find the relationship as I read. Another part I liked was the “topics” Amy lists as story ideas/titles. They give another clue to Amy’s persona. Amy’s students are delightful, clearly and carefully drawn. While the entire book is a put down of pretentious authors, it is also the story of a very human woman who has great sorrows to surmount. As is true with all good humor, there is also tragedy to provide contrast. Willett deals well with both. (spoiler alert – Maxine’s recovery is the one deviation from realistic outcomes in an otherwise well-paced and plotted tale.) Anyone who enjoys a “good read” and, equally, a “bad read,” will enjoy this writer’s delight. If you are a potential novelist, there is much food for thought. Book groups will have a field day with a variety of topics – truth vs fiction, honest criticism, how you see yourself as opposed to how others see you, marriage of convenience, dealing with rude/stupid/ignorant people (and being rude/stupid/ignorant yourself), personal growth and change, phobias and others.