BOOK: The Writing Class by Jincy Willett (2008)

I picked this one up on a whim a week ago and after recently reading Stephen Markley’s non-fiction Publish This Book, a book about how Markley got a book about publishing a book published (read the review if you want to make sense of that), I was intrigued by the concept of The Writing Class:  a murder mystery set in a writers’ workshop.    And man, was it ever fun.  Up until the very end, which I found slightly unsatisfying (though I’m currently taking comfort in the theory it may have been making fun of itself), I was completely sucked in.  It’s hilarious, sharp, and extremely entertaining.  Score!

The story focuses on a writing workshop teacher, the overweight, undersuccessful Amy Gallup.  Gallup had once been a talent — publishing her first novel at age 22 to high praise and huge success.  But her follow-up novels mostly bombed and after a few years of failure, plus the death of her husband (her gay best friend), she quit writing and began to teach instead.  Her workshops, which take place at a local college, are night classes usually taken by three types of students:  1) the rare one who can actually write; 2) the all-to-frequent ones who think they can write and can’t; and 3) the also all-too-frequent ones who are there primarily to pick up hot dudes/chicks.

Her latest class looks like it’s going to be about the same, but she presses into it anyway and soon finds that some of her students are more interesting than she’d originally given them credit for.  One of the students, a wealthy, naive young woman named Carla, is taking the workshop for the umpteenth time and kind of giving Amy the willies because of how much she knows about her at this point.  But the rest of the group seems fairly normal:  an elderly retired schoolteacher who quickly reveals herself to be the best writer in the class, a doctor writing a terrible medical thriller, a bunch of guys writing predictable horror and mystery stories, and a few other assorted students taking the class a lot more seriously than most.

The class quickly becomes tight after a few sessions spent arguing over their manuscripts, and Amy is impressed and excited about the quarter.  Until strange things start to happen:  a couple of students come to her with offensive, upsetting notes found tucked into their critiques;  another nearly dies in a car accident when someone plays a vicious Halloween prank on her.  Before long, the trickster escalates, and one of Amy’s students ends up dead.  Shortly after that, Amy begins receiving terrifying phone calls in the middle of the night and tries to cancel the class.  But the students,  inspired by Amy’s teaching, beg her to continue on despite the threats.  It’s clear some of them find the work of The Sniper, as they begin to call him/her, extremely exciting.  Maybe TOO exciting. . .

The ending, the big reveal, was a bit of a letdown for me.  It just didn’t have the originality or oomph I was expecting, though, as I hinted at earlier, I suspect  this was done on purpose — the entire book is clearly meant to serve as a satire of genre fiction, and the fact it is genre fiction itself can be no accident.   At least, that’s what I’m hoping is the case.  This small gripe aside, though, I completely devoured this novel, reading it in two days and loving every minute spent with it.

So, if you’re looking for something light and fun to read, you need go no further, believe me.  I’m only sorry I read it last week instead of this coming one, as I’m about to get on a plane for six hours and it would’ve been just the thing!  Oh well — I’m sure I’ve got something else in my pile(s) that will do.  Will report back, of course, once I’ve read whatever it is I read next.



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