Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Writing Class

The Writing Class (Picador 2009) is an enjoyable entertainment from the unpredictable but very talented Jincy Willett. Although the mystery puzzle seems a bit cliche as a plot device, it really doesn't matter as there are frequent moments of brilliant writing in this sometimes sad, often funny novel. Willett is a perceptive writer, and probably a wholly dedicated teacher.

Willett laces the depths of human feeling and emotion through her characters in the most unexpected ways, especially in the strong lead character, extension professor of creative writing, Amy Gallup. One cannot help but draw similarities between Gallup and Willett, which is perhaps what gives Gallup her human heart and sense of professionalism in its most soldiering sense, replete with duty, honor, anxiety, joy.

Gallup is a one-hit-wonder semi-famous author who is in a decades-long dry spell and teaches writing courses at the local university extension to make ends meet. She is an identifiable character especially because of the private moments of her fear, resilience, love and care we are privileged to witness. She represents a large segment of successful, single American women who lead independent but somewhat lonely lives not always by choice and not always without fear; we don't often see these vulnerable sides portrayed in such original, funny and ultimately winning scenes.

The writing class itself is populated by seemingly misfit types that one might expect at a university extension writing class. When an anonymous interloper starts leaving bizarre notes and signs to the class, Amy is on edge: The Killer, as they call him, could be any one her students! But she soldiers on, and it is in balancing the large cast of supporting characters (the many members of the writing class) where Willett stumbles a bit.

The Writing Class is a wholly original work, but for me the puzzle (and people's subsequent actions/reactions to events unfolding around it) was difficult to buy. I recommend it nonetheless for Willett's incredibly satisfying creation of Amy Gallup. And because it is a valuable book and de facto book of advice about how to become a good writer.