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8th September
2010
written by Steph

Many moons ago, Jenny over at Shelf Love wrote a review of Jincy Willett’s The Writing Class that really intrigued me. I had heard of Willett before – heck we actually have another one of her novels AND a short story collection by her – but it was Jenny’s review that really got me excited to give Willett a shot. I mean, a novel that is both a satire AND a mystery novel all rolled up in one and focuses on the art (or lack thereof) of writing? What could be better than that? So in case you haven’t clicked over and read Jenny’s review already (which you absolutely should because it is brilliant), the idea behind The Writing Class is this: Amy Gallup is burned out author who peaked when she was young and precocious and who now makes her living by teaching continuing education writing classes at the local community college (as well stringing together mad-lib style author biographies that just barely count as writing). Through Amy, we meet new set of students at the start of her Fall course, and the narrative largely starts off focusing on the class and the various writing exercises (along with their results) that the students are asked to complete as they hone their craft. We also dip into Amy’s life outside of the class, gradually gaining insight into her rather limited and hollow existence, and we see how the class slowly starts to merge into a family unit, enriching not only each other’s writing but also each other’s lives. Unfortunately, a disgruntled and mysterious misfit in the group soon makes his/her presence known, attempting to disrupt and damage the group dynamic and growing bonds. What starts off as poison pen letters eventually spiral into increasingly sinister pranks that place lives at stake… This novel was a flat-out joy to read. It was SO fun. I loved the dynamics that developed in the writing group and the way the various characters gradually gained depth and distinguished themselves from each other. Although some start off feeling rather stereotypical, it was interesting to see how Willett took prickly characters and made them human. The setting of the writing class itself was particularly enjoyable and resulted in many humorous passages of writing, several of which made me laugh out loud. Willett did a great job of skewering some of the more stereotypical elements of genre fiction, but I also thought that she asked a lot of interesting questions about writing and the way one can develop as an author via the character of Amy. Using a writing class as the platform for a story was a fun way to play with the narrative and structure of the novel, and as such, I thought the story worked well as both an interesting piece of metafiction as well as straightforward piece of fiction. I felt the mystery element of the novel was fun and rather effective, but it did also feel unnecessary in some ways and was probably the weakest part of the book as a whole. The reveal of the identity of the nasty group member was kind of goofy and very contrived in all the stereotypical ways these things can play out (i.e., the killer suddenly reveals all of his/her motivations only to be foiled), but I think in a way this is what Willett was going for given that the novel is a satire. I think one of the nice things I took away from this novel was the sentiment that a real family developed between the members of the writing class, and I thought this was a nice way of demonstrating how the act of writing – generally considered a solitary occupation – and storytelling can bring people together. I also liked the idea that no matter how big or small the scope, everyone has some story to tell. I really liked the atmosphere and sharing of ideas that seemed to develop in Amy’s writing class, and I thought it seemed like a really fun process of sharing ideas and channeling creative energies. Like many voracious readers and bloggers, I’ve often toyed with the idea that I’d like to write a book some day, but I’m not sure where I’d begin, or what story I’d want to tell or anything like that. I can’t say this novel convinced me that I have what it takes to be a published author, but it did make me remember how important and rewarding writing in a creative way can be, despite its challenges. All in all, this was a really engaging, fun read that I enjoyed immensely. The writing was clever and sharp, and made it so that I didn’t want to stop reading it and was sorry when all was resolved. I highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest in the writing process or is just looking for a book that will grab your attention from beginning to end. You won't want to put it down! And of course, I’ll be seeking out the other Willett volumes on our shelves sooner rather than later! Rating: 4.5 out of 5

8 Comments

  1. You’ve sold it to me!

    I didn’t realise that you had dreams of being an author – I’ll be the first in line to read your book if you ever decide to write it 🙂

    I’m one of the few bloggers that doesn’t dream of writing a book. Perhaps I’m just uninspired at this point in my life, but I’m happy just reading books 🙂

  2. 09/08/2010

    All the best on your aspirations to write! This book has been noted.

  3. kay
    09/09/2010

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one!
    I read it a while ago, around the time it came out I think; I was charmed by the idea of a book that included both a mystery and writing. I really enjoyed reading it : it was fun and “comfy” but written with wit (clever and sharp probably describes it better, even!) I loved Amy, she was a different kind of character.
    This book definitely deserves more publicity!

  4. 09/09/2010

    Quite a few years ago, I read Jenny and the Jaws of Life by Willet, but for some reason that I can’t remember now, I didn’t end up liking it all that much. It might have been a little too weird for me at that point in my life. I do like the sound of this book though, and think like it sounds really interesting. Both the mystery aspects and the writing aspects sound like they would be right up my alley, so I will have to check it out. I would be interested to hear what you think of her other books as well after you get the chance to read them.

  5. 09/09/2010

    @ Jackie: Aw, thanks for the vote of confidence! I actually have no idea if I’ll ever write a book, but I like to think I might… some day! For now I feel like I have far too much reading to do, and as you said, inspiration hasn’t yet struck, but I keep my fingers crossed that one day an idea will hit me and the rest will be history!
     
    @ Mystica: Thanks! For now my writing is limited to blogging and other print articles about books, but who knows when that might change!
     
    @ kay: So glad you’ve read this one too! It really is a lot of fun, and I can’t imagine why more bloggers haven’t picked it up… it’s really right up our alley!
     
    @ zibilee: Well, you know that I like really weird books, but I will say that this one is really not outlandish and odd at all. It’s funny, but very down to earth (more or less… a few of the things that happen are almost a bit too strange to be believed), and I think you’d like it if you gave it a shot. I do intend to read Jenny and the Jaws of Life at some point as well as Winner of the National Book Award, so we’ll see how I feel about Willett’s other works!

  6. You’ve sold me too – I love the idea of genre fiction also being metafiction and how those things intersect. I hope the library has this one.

  7. 09/14/2010

    @ Kim: Yes, this one was a lot of fun, especially because of all the different levels it could be read and enjoyed at. I hope you find a copy!

  8. […] reading other reviews and thinking about reading it), after Steph of Steph & Tony Investigate wrote a review full of reasons why I thought I’d love this book. For […]

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