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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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