Jincy Willett | The Writing Class (Picador Press)

book_writing-class.jpgWillett’s characters are real to anyone who has ever taught adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m going to say it right up front: I loved this book. It works on so many levels that the sheer audacity of it would be recommendation enough for you to read it. It’s not perfect, but I found it all the more endearing because its reach does occasionally exceed its grasp. However, I am the perfect audience for this novel; more on that later.

First, it may be helpful to define the book’s genre. It’s a mystery. Well, yes, but it’s also a character study of a class and its teacher. Then there’s the part that’s a comedy, and of course, there are scenes that would scare the daylights out of Peter Straub, even in, well, daylight. Okay, I’m not getting anywhere with this. Moving on…

Narrative voice/point of view: We’ll look at that to nail it down. There is this omniscient narrator, see, but she (or he) doesn’t know everything. Hmmm… Okay, limited omniscience then. But wait, now there’s another voice interrupting from time to time, giving a first person account, but we don’t know who that is, which makes it all the more confusing, so…

Ah! The main character is safe to talk about. Amy Gallup is a 60ish teacher of a creative writing class taught through a university’s extension department in the San Diego area. She has long blonde hair and is a bit overweight; in fact, she looks just like the picture of Jincy Willett on the frontispiece of the book. So, maybe this is an autobiography? Or maybe not. After all, there are a number of things going on that didn’t happen in real life.

I’ll try a plot summary. Amy was once a young writer of note. She was successful and critically acclaimed in her early 20s. As time went on, she began to lose her ability to write as she once did, but not her love for the art. Further, she is a very good teacher. An aspiring writer could do worse than to read The Writing Class because it is just that: a lot of good, sensible advice about crafting fiction. Also, though Amy no longer writes anything but a sporadic and rather nonsensical blog, she looks at every person and situation as if there were a story in them…as, of course, there is.

Willett’s characters are real to anyone who has ever taught adults, and here’s where I come in. During my dues-paying days, I actually did teach a couple of extension courses and plenty of night classes for students who needed to learn business and professional writing. I felt like I knew every one of Willett’s students from just the briefest character sketches. They are a distinctive, yet still somehow homogenous group.

The Writing Class’s greatest weakness comes, ironically, from its greatest strength. It may try to be too many things to achieve the first rank in any of them. But it also works like our minds do, flitting from thought to observation to another thought, and then "Oops, there goes a chicken," and you don’t remember where you were in the first place. The novel is sometimes a bit bumpy, but even when it bogs down, it picks itself up and keeps right on going, just like Amy herself.

All right, I give up and I’m going to stop wasting your time so you can get your own hands on a copy of The Writing Class. If you are interested in creative writing, mysteries, humor, horror and a smashing summer (or winter; I’m not picky when you read it, I just want to make sure you do) treat of a book, get your hands on this one. | Andrea Braun

Note: This is a review of the Picador Press softcover edition of the novel released in 2009. The original hardcover was published in 2008.

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