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The Writing Class Hardcover – June 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Can a class of wannabe novelists solve a murder in their midst? That's the premise of this dark comedy of the absurd from Willett (Winner of the National Book Award), a boisterous satire of pseudointellectuals, impotent writers and the adult extension programs of public universities. The only things Amy Gallup, a once-noted California author, has published in years are blurbs of other writers' work. Amy's only income comes from teaching fiction writing to a motley collection of varyingly talented prepublished adults. Someone in the class is making threatening phone calls and sending extremely cruel notes to other students. When two of the students are murdered, a deep sense of danger takes hold. Yet the class goes on. Amy's lectures actually constitute a damn fine guide to writing fiction, while Willett's prose has sparkling moments (The line was playful, offhand, the poem itself a smug, imperious cat stretch). The tension is so strong that readers can hardly resist the temptation to peek ahead and see which student is the killer. (June)
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From Booklist

This is a marvelous toy of a book, full of wry surprises and sly twists. The premise may not excite: Amy Gallup, fat, middle-aged, and reclusive, is a truly fine teacher, and she teaches a writing class for university extension courses in Southern California. Her class holds the usual suspects: among them, the doctor, the lawyer, the prim but very smart older woman, two folks named Tiffany, and Carla, who has taken this class with Amy for years. Quite soon everyone starts getting odd phone calls and odder notes. Two people in the group die. The university cancels the class, but they continue to meet. Along the way, Willett dispenses, with some very dark humor, an enormous amount of good information about the way fiction works or doesn’t, and about the way publishing works or doesn’t. And drawing on the work of the students in Amy’s class, there are delicious examples of poor, mediocre, and excellent writing, and, behind it all, there is a finely wrought character study of how Amy came to be what she is. Extremely clever and quite enjoyable. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312330669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312330668
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,484,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In Jincy Willett's "The Writing Class," Amy Gallup is conducting a fiction workshop in a southern California university. She is nearing sixty, eats and drinks too much, and has grown increasingly jaded. Although she was a published novelist at twenty-two, her success was modest and short-lived, and she has written nothing of note (except for a lackluster blog and biographical sketches) for many years. Amy's closest companion is her old basset hound, Alphonse, and when she looks back at her life, it is with a rueful sadness. "While everyone else tried to live 'in the moment,' Amy learned to hide from hers. It was the only thing she worked at, really." Her existence consists, for the most part, of dread and boredom. Her teaching job is a poorly paid gig with no health benefits, but after conducting the class for fifteen consecutive quarters, she can do it in her sleep. Sometimes, when she has a decent group of students, working with them brings her a modicum of pleasure.

Amy's current class is an unusual mix, including: Dr. Richard Surtees, a handsome and arrogant physician; Pete Purvis, a pale and reserved young man; the matronly Dorothy (Dot) Hieronymus; Sylvester Reyes, a tall and broad-shouldered high-school football coach; Marvy Stokes, a balding chemistry teacher; the sharp and muscle-bound Frank Waasted, who holds a doctorate on magical realism; Edna Wentworth, an intelligent, no-nonsense former schoolteacher; Tiffany Zuniga, a pretty and smug young woman; Charlton Heston (call me Chuck), who enjoys making wisecracks; a lawyer named Harold Blasbalg; and the obese and enthusiastic Carla Karolak, a garishly dressed acolyte who has been enrolled in Amy's workshop for the past six quarters. Carla idolizes Amy and has committed her beloved mentor's lessons to memory.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on July 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Having taught a community ed. novels class several times, I could really relate to this book. The main character, Amy Gallup, is an atypical heroine to say the least. She is overweight and plain and bordering on agoraphobic. In her early twenties, she published a successful novel, but from there, her career went steadily downhill. Teaching an adjunct university writing class is her salvation, but she doesn't know it yet. She'd much rather stay at home with her basset hound, Alphonse, who doesn't like her much.

Amy's students run the gamut from professional writers to those who are there to meet the opposite sex. Several are extremely talented. The first two student excerpts, one about how to choose the rope you will use to commit suicide, are incredibly good. Amy's suggestions are usually right on the mark, especially when she tells her class not to assume the writer of the suicide poem is writing about her own life. Of course, a writing class doesn't present enough of a conflict to encompass the entire novel, so Willet throws in a stalker; one of the students is making nasty comments on the other writers' hard copies and making harassing phone calls to Amy herself. When one of them dies, we have a full-fledge murder mystery to rival "Ten Little Indians."

Anybody who has been to a writers' conference will recognize what Willett is getting at here. There is a whole industry built to take advantage of beginning writers. Probably the most excruciating scene is one during which an old lady reads her mystery play to the class. It's Amy's job to find something possible to say about student writing, even when there's nothing good to say. The murderer is a bitter person who starts out targeting the editors who have rejected his/her work.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By K. on July 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Writing Class is a book to satisfy the hard-to-please, for it satisfies on so many levels. As a mystery, it is a not-easily-guessed puzzle, all the way to the end. It is funny enough to please the most finicky of humor-lovers. Action sequences are vividly described and grip the reader. Character development is believable, and is not limited to the protagonist, Amy. The book even serves as a source of tips for wanna-be writers. Willett has hit the mark with this one just as surely as she did with Winner of the National Book Award and Jenny and the Jaws of Life.

My request to Ms. Willett would be that she now take Amy by the hand (or by the scruff of the neck, if needed) and lead her into other books, perhaps in other genres altogether: a Fabio-emblazoned romance called Love's Lascivious Extension Prof, an espionage thriller titled Mightier Than the Sword, perhaps some sci-fi - The Universal Point of View, some erotica - Amy Does Alexandria, a bit of distopian fantasy - What Rhymes With Clockwork Orange? If anyone can tackle, successfully and with wit, the genres currently sub-dividing bookstore shelves, it will be Jincy Willett.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Klein on August 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One reviewer complained that the novel turns into a whodunit, and that is true. So if you do not like that kind of thing, you won't like this book. If you do, however, this is perfection of the genre. I was spellbound from the first class. I used to teach writing at a Community College, so I really identified with the main character and her mixture of dread and sincere desire to teach. Willett finesses the difficult problem of showing you bad writing without writing badly admirably. The little stories are so perfect for the characters who wrote them, that they are good in that way and interesting for that reason. My only complaint about this work is that I think the title will put people off just as the title of her previous novel, "Winner of the National Book Award," probably did. The previous book was the best treatment of sexual power struggles and that I have ever read. You sure wouldn't imagine that from the title. Here again, the title leads you to expect some silly character study of people in a writing class, instead of a really fun murder mystery. It is sort of like the title of Amy Gallup's blog, "Go Away." Willett is a mysterious character herself. How can a person who writes this well withhold her talent from the world? She has only written two novels and a collection of short stories, and all of these are so satisfying.
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