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The Writing Class Hardcover – June 10, 2008
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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
Top customer reviews
But The Writing Class is far, far more than a mystery, however unconventional. It's also the tale of the emergence of a human being--a wondrous, joyful, loving self, from behind the scrim of physical and emotional protection Amy has erected around herself. She has been hurt. She will not be hurt again. She will maintain careful walls between herself and what turns out to be a remarkable class, which literally begs her to continue teaching them after she's deliberately broken a silly administrative rule. Slowly, she begins to care, care deeply, about her students, and to offer them far more than the marvelous advice about writing that she dispenses during every class. You could read The Writing Class as a manual for how to write--how to cut flab, how to show, not tell, how to construct a plot, how to create characters as alive as, well, Amy herself. You can read it as an utterly original mystery, or as a story about the birth (and near-death) or an extraordinary human being.
You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll never forget this novel.
Five stars, and five more, and five more!
The book falls flat when it comes to building the characters in the class and creating a believable mystery. Like many of the other reviewers I didn't care about most of the students, few of whom were described with enough depth to be memorable. I also found the behavior of the class to be wholly unbelievable. They know there's a menace among them, eventually shown to be a killer, yet with few exceptions they continue to meet together. Given this commitment to the class, I figured they had something to do as a whole with the mystery - either they were all involved in the crimes, or they would somehow solve the issue together, but neither proved to be true. Since the class as a whole really had nothing to do with the resolution of the crime, I couldn't get over my disbelief at their actions.
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