Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

Published: Scribe, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-921372-11-7

First line: Lumbers into class five minutes late, dragging, along with her yard-wide butt, a beat-up vinyl briefcase stuffed with old notebooks.

Amy Gallup, is overweight, middle-aged and since the death of her first husband and the failure of her second marriage, has lived the life of a recluse with only her basset hound, Alphonse for company. Her only contact with people is the weekly adult education fiction writing class she teaches.

Her class this term has all the usual types, the overly enthusiastic student, the undiscovered talent, the slacker, the politically correct, the lonely. But this class looks like being a particularly good group, everyone seems to be working well together, producing some lively in-class discussion. Unfortunately a malicious prankster, dubbed the Sniper, looks like spoiling it all.

It starts when Amy receives a nasty phone call, then one of her students is sent a spiteful parody of a poem she read out in class, and others receive a vicious peer evaluation and a crude drawing. But things escalate when one of the students ends up dead.

Amy, concerned for the rest of her class, decides to tell them all what has been going on. Everyone decides to continue with the classes, aware that the murderer is one of them, and try to find a way to discover his or her identity.

With 13 students in the class, this book has a large cast of characters, and Willett has done an excellent job of making each of them come alive as distinctive personalities. But it is Amy who really makes the book. She is a wonderful character, a loner who is afraid to be alone. She found success as a writer at a young age, publishing 4 novels before losing her muse more than 20 years ago.

She describes herself on her blog, Go Away, as ‘an aging, bitter, unpleasant woman … who spends her days editing unreadable text and her nights teaching and not writing. Sometimes, late at night, in the dark, she laughs inappropriately.’ I found Amy anything but unpleasant. She may be a little embittered by how life has turned out for her, but her wicked sense of humour, and sharp observations of herself and others reveal her as someone acutely interested in life.

Book addicts will find a kindred spirit in Amy. I envy her book shelves – unable to part with any of her books, and with little floor space, she has built a single shelf book height from the ceiling that snakes around all the walls in her house.

While The Writing Class is alive with humour, there is an underlying poignancy too. With its appealing characters, engaging plot and humour, The Writing Class is a delight to read.

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