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Amy Gallup is gifted, perhaps too gifted for her own good. Published at only twenty-two, she peaked early and found critical but not commercial success. Now her former life is gone, along with her writing career and beloved husband. A reclusive widow, her sole companion a dour, flatulent basset hound who barely tolerates her, her daily mantra Kill Me Now, she is a loner af Amy Gallup is gifted, perhaps too gifted for her own good. Published at only twenty-two, she peaked early and found critical but not commercial success. Now her former life is gone, along with her writing career and beloved husband. A reclusive widow, her sole companion a dour, flatulent basset hound who barely tolerates her, her daily mantra Kill Me Now, she is a loner afraid to be alone. Her only bright spot each week is the writing class that she teaches at the university extension. This semester's class is full of the usual suspects: the doctor who wants to be the next Robin Cook, the overly enthusiastic repeat student, the slacker, the unassuming student with the hidden talent, the prankster, the know-it-all... Amy's seen them all before. But something is very different about this class—and the clues begin with a scary phone call in the middle of the night and obscene threats instead of peer evaluations on student writing assignments. Amy soon realizes that one of her students is a very sick puppy, and when a member of the class is murdered, everyone becomes a suspect. As she dissects each student's writing for clues, Amy must enlist the help of everyone in her class, including the murderer, to find the killer among them. Suspenseful, extremely witty, brilliantly written, unexpectedly hilarious, and a joy from start to finish, The Writing Class is a one-of-a-kind novel that rivals Jincy Willett's previous masterpieces.


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Amy Gallup is gifted, perhaps too gifted for her own good. Published at only twenty-two, she peaked early and found critical but not commercial success. Now her former life is gone, along with her writing career and beloved husband. A reclusive widow, her sole companion a dour, flatulent basset hound who barely tolerates her, her daily mantra Kill Me Now, she is a loner af Amy Gallup is gifted, perhaps too gifted for her own good. Published at only twenty-two, she peaked early and found critical but not commercial success. Now her former life is gone, along with her writing career and beloved husband. A reclusive widow, her sole companion a dour, flatulent basset hound who barely tolerates her, her daily mantra Kill Me Now, she is a loner afraid to be alone. Her only bright spot each week is the writing class that she teaches at the university extension. This semester's class is full of the usual suspects: the doctor who wants to be the next Robin Cook, the overly enthusiastic repeat student, the slacker, the unassuming student with the hidden talent, the prankster, the know-it-all... Amy's seen them all before. But something is very different about this class—and the clues begin with a scary phone call in the middle of the night and obscene threats instead of peer evaluations on student writing assignments. Amy soon realizes that one of her students is a very sick puppy, and when a member of the class is murdered, everyone becomes a suspect. As she dissects each student's writing for clues, Amy must enlist the help of everyone in her class, including the murderer, to find the killer among them. Suspenseful, extremely witty, brilliantly written, unexpectedly hilarious, and a joy from start to finish, The Writing Class is a one-of-a-kind novel that rivals Jincy Willett's previous masterpieces.

30 review for The Writing Class

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    I picked up this book because I found the concept amusing: a burned out author who now gets by teaching creative writing extension courses has to solve a murder in her class. The Writing Class follows the conventions of a "Ten Little Indians"-style murder mystery. We're introduced to an entire class of writer wannabes, and then we spend the book trying, along with the main character, to guess who the killer is. Jincy Willett is funny in a sharp and satirical but humane way, and she has a real gif I picked up this book because I found the concept amusing: a burned out author who now gets by teaching creative writing extension courses has to solve a murder in her class. The Writing Class follows the conventions of a "Ten Little Indians"-style murder mystery. We're introduced to an entire class of writer wannabes, and then we spend the book trying, along with the main character, to guess who the killer is. Jincy Willett is funny in a sharp and satirical but humane way, and she has a real gift for characterization. Each of her characters has depths to be unraveled, even the least-mentioned ones, and by the end, like Amy Gallup, the fictional author who one cannot help noticing seems to have a lot in common with Jincy Willett, it's easy to check off reasons why each and every one of them could or could not be the whack job who's escalated from leaving nasty, destructive critiques to murder. Willett is also just a damn good writer. This isn't a "prosey" book in particular, but the prose is controlled and clever all the way through. It's a pleasure to read a real Writer at work. The one conceit Willett allows herself — the "gimme" I'll give her for the sake of the story — is that even after it becomes apparent that someone with whom they're sharing manuscript critiques may well be a literal psychopath, the entire writing class insists they love the class so much they want to keep meeting. This works brilliantly in maintaining tension, since at every class (and the inevitable "gotcha" that follows as the person they dub "the Sniper" makes another move) everyone is a suspect and the reader is mentally gathering clues. While I found it a little implausible that a real group of random adults would all be up for continuing, especially after someone dies, I was almost convinced by their enthusiastic immersion in the class and by the frisson of thrill that was surely the real motivation for most of them. ("Holy crap, one of us is a murderer! Isn't this exciting?") There are moments, throughout The Writing Class, that made me envious of Willett's observational powers and skill at crafting her observations into words. Amy Gallup of course gets the most page space, and as her own life story emerges in dribs and drabs until we have the whole complex human being laid out before us, we also get to see into her mind, which is the mind of a gifted if jaded writer with powerful skills of observation and analysis, making the entire book suspect as an exercise in meta-fiction if we make the mistake that Amy Gallup advises her students not to make, and infer too much about an author from her characters. On another level, The Writing Class is damned funny for anyone who's dabbled in being a writer, whether you're a published author or an MFA student or just someone who's taken a workshop or two. It's not accurate to say Willett "skewers" the writing industry, as she obviously has a great love for real writing, and like Amy Gallup, she has genuine affection for those who truly want to be writers, however hapless most of them may be. But there's a true-to-life cynicism in Amy's assessment of her students and their work (Willett actually presents excerpts from each student, written in a variety of styles and levels of skill, an accomplished feat of writing in itself) and the sort of people who take writing classes. Purely as a murder mystery, The Writing Class also worked well for me. I confess: I didn't guess the murderer. I thought I knew who it was by the end of the book, but I was wrong. I was a little worried that Willett would pull some gimmick out of her ass like some mystery writers do, but no, when the culprit was revealed, everything made sense, and I skimmed back over the incidents involving each suspect and agreed that it fit. (Though I still think my guess was reasonable too.) I'd never heard of Jincy Willett before I read this book, and now I want to seek out her other books. It was an unexpected surprise, and gets my highest recommendation, especially if you are a would-be writer. I want to take a writing workshop by Amy Gallup! Without the murders, hopefully.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lela

    I completely enjoyed this book. The characters were wonderful and eccentric. It was so comedic yet with a scary murderer bit. I loved the many writing tips stealthily inserted into the dialogue. Then, there was the subtle way the effects of isolation and loneliness were described and overcome. I recommend the book without reservations.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Oriana

    This was a perfect choice for an airplane book, especially since we (stupidly) flew fucking Airtran, which doesn't even show movies! WTF? But so I was finished with this before we even got to our layover. What to say...? I like Jincy a whole lot, and I liked this too, but it wasn't remotely as good as Winner of the National Book Award. (Also, side note, Jincy? Your titles blow.) This is the story of a woman who teaches a writing class for grownups at a local college somewhere in California. She' This was a perfect choice for an airplane book, especially since we (stupidly) flew fucking Airtran, which doesn't even show movies! WTF? But so I was finished with this before we even got to our layover. What to say...? I like Jincy a whole lot, and I liked this too, but it wasn't remotely as good as Winner of the National Book Award. (Also, side note, Jincy? Your titles blow.) This is the story of a woman who teaches a writing class for grownups at a local college somewhere in California. She's chubby, misanthropic, bitter, and kind of elitist. She's a good character, and I believed her. But. The book covers one semester of this class, with about a dozen students, and it's a sort of mystery story because one of them is possibly a psychotic who is maybe trying to kill or at least scare the shit out of the other classmates. And it's one of those mysteries where you're supposed to play along at home, because each student's writing is excerpted in the book, and I guess you're supposed to glean clues from everyone's different styles and personalities so you (and the teacher, too) can solve the mystery. Fun, right? And a good idea, right? Well yes. But there are a lot of problems with this book. On the positive side, Jincy does a great job of coming up with very different writing styles for all the students. She also does that thing where she gives every character a couple of very specific character traits, things we as readers can latch on to as we're getting to know everyone, and be like, "Oh yeah, Richard, he's the doctor with the condescending manner," and like that. Some of these work, but some don't; of the thirteen people in the class, I could only really remember who about half of them were throughout the book, which makes it hard to play "Who's the killer?". That said, I admit that I am generally an uncareful reader, so doubtless some of this fault is mine. But...not all of it, Jincy. Sorry. The other big problem here is that there are some major plot issues, the biggest one being (view spoiler)[ after one of the students is killed, there's this whole hullabaloo and the class is of course cancelled, but then everyone decides that this class is so valuable, and the teacher is so awesome, that they're going to keep right on meeting anyway, and they kind of all act like it's some kind of fun game that one of their classmates is probably a murderer. (hide spoiler)] Here is why this is a problem: First, these are grownups, with spouses and jobs and kids, and I really find it hard to believe they'd all be like, "Whee! Let's go hang out with a group of quasi-strangers, one of whom might want to kill me!" And second, see above where I discussed teacher and what an ornery bitch she is? She's not written to be smart enough, or even pleasant enough, to inspire this kind of fervent devotion from her students. So. Conclusion? This was fun to read, and pretty smart, and a good idea (if a bit gimmicky), but with an uneven execution. I definitely liked it, but I can't be all "Oh my god go read this right now" because most people are not as forgiving as me and would probably like it a lot less. But Jincy, I still think you're rad! I hope you're writing more books so I can read all of them.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    All at once this novel is funny, clever, sad, thrilling, and readable. And in between all of the lovely bits of story, there are some nearly profound thoughts on writers and writing, on art vs. not art, on loneliness and on happiness and what it means to be either or both. And, of course, the humor--the wit--is constantly surprising, appearing in places you'd never expect it if you've never read Jincy Willett before. Sure, the identity of the killer didn't come as a huge shock to me--I'd guessed All at once this novel is funny, clever, sad, thrilling, and readable. And in between all of the lovely bits of story, there are some nearly profound thoughts on writers and writing, on art vs. not art, on loneliness and on happiness and what it means to be either or both. And, of course, the humor--the wit--is constantly surprising, appearing in places you'd never expect it if you've never read Jincy Willett before. Sure, the identity of the killer didn't come as a huge shock to me--I'd guessed it pretty early on and kept hoping I was wrong only not really--but it made the most sense for the story. I enjoyed reading this on every level: As a reader, a writer, an admirer of those who can capture ecstasy and despair in the same moment, and as a person who related quite a lot to the protagonist. And this is true: It almost pained me to have to finish.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A fun read. Maybe not the best as a mystery, but an engaging premise. Amy, an author who years before had been called promising, teaches an adult writing class. With each session, though, progressively bad things happen. They know that one of their own classmates is the culprit. So, invoking the standard catchphrase, whodunit? We’re supposed to figure it out from the students’ writing assignments. The recognizable archetypes are part of the fun: the fan of the hard-boiled detective novel, the se A fun read. Maybe not the best as a mystery, but an engaging premise. Amy, an author who years before had been called promising, teaches an adult writing class. With each session, though, progressively bad things happen. They know that one of their own classmates is the culprit. So, invoking the standard catchphrase, whodunit? We’re supposed to figure it out from the students’ writing assignments. The recognizable archetypes are part of the fun: the fan of the hard-boiled detective novel, the self-assured doctor, the class clown, the overly enthusiastic repeat student, the whip-smart former English teacher and others. One of them is a bad seed. What I enjoyed more than figuring out who actually dunit was the advice Amy had for the would-be writers in her class.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I found this book to be funny, provocative, and above all, intelligent. My sense is that Willett's wisdom has been hard-earned, yet she shares it generously. I'm not a writer, and I've never attended workshops such as those so precisely evoked in this novel, but as a teacher of English, I recognize what Willett so clearly describes: the many nuances of the relationship between a well-intended, ambitious class and an equally responsible instructor. Many of us who read compulsively, hopefully, con I found this book to be funny, provocative, and above all, intelligent. My sense is that Willett's wisdom has been hard-earned, yet she shares it generously. I'm not a writer, and I've never attended workshops such as those so precisely evoked in this novel, but as a teacher of English, I recognize what Willett so clearly describes: the many nuances of the relationship between a well-intended, ambitious class and an equally responsible instructor. Many of us who read compulsively, hopefully, constantly, or stubbornly have noted with dismay the sheer volume of crap that today finds a publisher. Stupid premises, shoddy editing, and blatant calculation characterize so much of what I see for sale on the literary marketplace. Like many, I maintain a steady diet of classic fiction in order to maintain my sense of what is, truly, "good" in writing. Yet I keep buying and reading the new stuff, too. Willett seems more fearless than many who are published today. Her style confidently blends insight, disdain, humor, and detail. I'd say that she balances skepticism with faith. The relationship between writers and readers is worthy of that delicate transaction.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    Yesterday, I noticed this book was due today and someone had put a hold on it. (The hold wasn't there last week!) So after dinner, I cracked it to see if it were worth keeping/putting back on the list. I finished it this morning, and didn't get a lot of sleep in the meantime (except for the fifteen-minute nap on the couch between 5th and 6th class chapters. It involved drool, and I won't say more than that). What a fun read! Interesting and endearing characters, fascinating weirdness but also to Yesterday, I noticed this book was due today and someone had put a hold on it. (The hold wasn't there last week!) So after dinner, I cracked it to see if it were worth keeping/putting back on the list. I finished it this morning, and didn't get a lot of sleep in the meantime (except for the fifteen-minute nap on the couch between 5th and 6th class chapters. It involved drool, and I won't say more than that). What a fun read! Interesting and endearing characters, fascinating weirdness but also touching humanity. Not philosophical in any way, but really a lot of fun. Liked the fun lists and wordplay; I'm sure people who have been in writing workshops and like to be snobs about that sort of amateur writer will find much to snicker at, as well. I will eagerly await something else by her, since I've enjoyed all three novels so far. "Carla was wearing a No Fear sweatshirt. You are too old, Amy wanted to tell her, for legible clothing."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    Most of us have attended a continuing ed. class; few have imagined it from the viewpoint of the teacher. There is the nervous headcount (high enough to meet the registrar's quorum?). There is the awkward roll-call of tongue-twisting names. There are first impressions prompted by age, clothing, and mannerisms (stereotyping, certainly, but open to revision as the term progresses). Reading preferences? (Please, not the default triumvirate of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Updike!) Motivations are divers Most of us have attended a continuing ed. class; few have imagined it from the viewpoint of the teacher. There is the nervous headcount (high enough to meet the registrar's quorum?). There is the awkward roll-call of tongue-twisting names. There are first impressions prompted by age, clothing, and mannerisms (stereotyping, certainly, but open to revision as the term progresses). Reading preferences? (Please, not the default triumvirate of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Updike!) Motivations are diverse. Many of the students harbor dreams (delusions?) of publication. Others are here to troll for dates! Willett introduces the teacher of this particular writing class, Amy Gallup in the opening chapters. On that first day she works the room like a seasoned stand-up comic. If she can make this group coalesce and like her, they will trust her, and only with trust will they be able to critique each other's writings with candor. As the class progresses, Amy will become guide, devil's advocate, and, though she might recoil from the idea, both shepherd and guru, but first, the reader must become more familiar with this character. She is a published author who stopped writing some three decades ago. She channels her creative impulses into a playful blog — contact without real connection. She's funny. One of her blog entries is titled “Novel Hybrids”. Example: “Call of the Wild Duck. A plucky dog survives life in the frozen Klondike with the help of a symbolic duck.” Amy is a recluse and lives with her bassett hound Alphonse. She is self-deprecating and inclined toward imaginary theatrics. She imagines Alphonse regarding her with perpetual disapproval. She describes herself as “a bitter peculiar person.” She is certainly peculiar (why else would we be interested?). I would not call her bitter. Along with sadness and fear, Amy is difficult to encapsulate, and the reader is left to sift through these facets and arrive at his own assessment. It is critical that the reader find Amy likeable enough to be worth following in this novel. The class is made up of 13 students. Each student must write a piece to be critiqued by his peers in class. This is a challenging format for Willett. She must create 13 separate personalities, each with a distinctive voice and writing style. There are a few standouts. Dot, a middle-aged housewife, submits a story about marital crisis titled “Gone But Not Forgotten.” Unfortunately for Dot, the pork roast dinner in the piece is more compelling than the actual characters. Chuck Heston, a cocky, balding, middle-aged guy surprises with “My Pet,” told convincingly from a female point of view. Each student's piece appears as an excerpt supplemented with synopsis and discussion provoked by one of Amy's favorite pedagogic queries: what was this story about? Willett seeds Amy's teachings with sly insertions. Ricky Bazza, a suburban newspaper reporter, writes in his piece: “...he adored her mind, which leaped and gleamed like the rainbows [rainbow trout] in Silver Creek.” A discussion about extended metaphor follows: Is her mind really like a fish's? With that lesson driven home, the reader is primed to appreciate the phrasing of Amy's thoughts: “She [Dot] was a bit more vacant than usual, but happy enough. Contented like a cow, and ruminating.” The structure of the story is an homage to Agatha Cristie's complicated artifices. Someone in the class launches a series of increasingly malicious pranks, which include a cruel critique of an Amy Gallup groupy's poem, and scatologic insults scrawled on another student's dubious action thriller. The reader also gets a glimpse into the mind of this sociopath through a set of anonymous diary entries. The plot is a barely convincing structure which mimics the mystery genre. The book is best approached with focus on its literary humor. The escalating maliciousness of the sociopath adds an element of suspense. Who in the class could perpetrate these acts, and what might the next frightening incident be? Amy and various class members attempt some amateur literary profiling which in turn draws the reader into the mystery plot. However, at the height of the tension, Willett cannot resist the opportunity to indulge her impulse to be witty. Amy frantically contacts the police and reaches someone whose name sounds like Sergeant Colostomy. He isn't eating a doughnut (cliché!), but seems to be chewing on something “doughy.” She later learns her student Carla's mother is named Mrs. Massengill. “Of course it was. What a deep thrill it would be, Amy thought, to introduce Carla's mother to Sergeant Colostomy, and she swallowed a laugh, hiccuping into the phone.” This book was a lot of fun. It celebrates absurdity. It might even help the reader to become a better writer. The more I thought about it, the more I came to appreciate Willett's unique combination of whimsy and gravity. NOTES: Contented cows, a walk down memory lane: http://search.library.duke.edu/search... interview with the author: http://www.jincywillett.com/journal/2... Ms. Pegasus' Cheat Sheet (supplement to Amy's Cheat Sheet) Student and Class Submission Harald (lawyer)............................................... “Blood Sky” (A vampire tale) Ricky Bazza (local newspaper reporter)....... “Crystal Night” (a detective romance-thriller) Dot (housewife).............................................. “Gone, but not Forgotten” Edna (retired teacher).................................... “The Good Woman” Dr. Surtees (physician).................................. “Code Black” (a thriller in the Jack Reacher mode) Pete Purvis (boyish)....................................... “Murphy Gonzalez and the Frog's Leg” Chuck .........................................................“My Pet” Syl .................................................................“Close Encounters of the Worst Kind” Carla poem

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dustincecil

    I put off reading the last 40 pages to try to give myself more time to imagine possible outcomes for this one... This is a total treat! Funny, smart, dark, and surprising.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    Lots of things I liked, some things I didn't. Likes: - The writing advice - It takes place in San Diego. Yeah San Diego! Wooo! - It's a murder mystery with a creative writing class as a setting and the students as suspects. - Author Jincy Willett is hilarious. - Figuring out whodunnit requires analysis of the students' writing samples. - Edna's story. I wanted it to be an actual novel. - The circumstances of Amy's first marriage - Carla's horrible mother and the pizza delivery prank - Dot. Every creativ Lots of things I liked, some things I didn't. Likes: - The writing advice - It takes place in San Diego. Yeah San Diego! Wooo! - It's a murder mystery with a creative writing class as a setting and the students as suspects. - Author Jincy Willett is hilarious. - Figuring out whodunnit requires analysis of the students' writing samples. - Edna's story. I wanted it to be an actual novel. - The circumstances of Amy's first marriage - Carla's horrible mother and the pizza delivery prank - Dot. Every creative writing class I've ever taken had a Dot. Dislikes: - There aren't enough clues. It could have been anyone. - When you do find out whodunnit, not much is explained. Like, (view spoiler)[if Edna, whodunnit, is a retired high school teacher, what was she like as a high school teacher? She's clearly a sociopath. Not saying teachers can't be sociopaths, but I want some insight into that. What was she like as a teacher, this spurned writer whose dreams of publication never came true and who's sworn vengeance against the publishing industry and all of the competition ever ever? That must be a fascinating story, and yet--nothing. (hide spoiler)] - Why does (view spoiler)[Pete dislike Amy? Why did he write that asshat comment about her? (hide spoiler)] - I found parts of it unbelievable, like that the class would continue to meet after (view spoiler)[Frank's death and especially after Dot's death. (hide spoiler)] - The first half of the book is great--creative, intriguing, fast-paced. The second half of the book drags. Update 4/13/18- Increasing my rating from 3 to 4. Last week I found a copy of The Writing Class at the Fallbrook Library bookstore, and I was thrilled. Not '3' thrilled, but '4' or '5' thrilled. It's been two years since I read this book, and I remember the plot and characters vividly and fondly. Also, I'm too interested in reading the sequel for it to be a 3; sorry, 2016 reviewer Jenn.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    There was a lot to like about this book. Jincy Willett is a sharp, witty (and a bit bitter) writer who it's just plain fun to hang around with, and there were many wonderful lines and paragraphs that I just had to read aloud to Jim. I also loved the concept (an extension school writing class -- one of the writers starts killing off the others) The problem, however, and a big one, was with the murder mystery. Jincy Willett had absolutely no idea how to do that well; it was obvious that she was mor There was a lot to like about this book. Jincy Willett is a sharp, witty (and a bit bitter) writer who it's just plain fun to hang around with, and there were many wonderful lines and paragraphs that I just had to read aloud to Jim. I also loved the concept (an extension school writing class -- one of the writers starts killing off the others) The problem, however, and a big one, was with the murder mystery. Jincy Willett had absolutely no idea how to do that well; it was obvious that she was more interested in the characters than the murder, and so whodunnit ended up making little sense and, indeed, contradicting the clues without a good explanation. I felt as if the author forced a plot upon her material when she'd have been happier without it. In the end, I'd rather have read her observations about these characters than watch her ineptly force them through plot contortions. I rarely fault a book for actually having a plot, but this book was the poorer for the one it had.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Francesca Forrest

    I was moved to add this to my to-read list by this fabulous review. Admittedly, the set-up is one that would have appealed to me even without the review, but without the review (a) I wouldn't have found the book and (b) I wouldn't have known just how well the author carries it off. Looking forward to reading it. --Okay, so now I've read it. I enjoyed it a lot--it was a good, easy, fun read--but I didn't have the overwhelmingly positive feeling for it that David did. I liked best the actual writin I was moved to add this to my to-read list by this fabulous review. Admittedly, the set-up is one that would have appealed to me even without the review, but without the review (a) I wouldn't have found the book and (b) I wouldn't have known just how well the author carries it off. Looking forward to reading it. --Okay, so now I've read it. I enjoyed it a lot--it was a good, easy, fun read--but I didn't have the overwhelmingly positive feeling for it that David did. I liked best the actual writing class interactions. I liked the insights the teacher (our viewpoint character) has about each of the students as she pays attention to them, and I liked the insights the students themselves had about the different writing samples. I would have liked more of that (I think I'd enjoy a story just about members of a writing class getting to know each other). The things I didn't like as much as I wanted to: First, the teacher herself. I did like her humor! But when it come to her backstory, her isolation ... I suffered a failure of empathy. I think those elements maybe suffered by comparison with the tour-de-force portrayals of isolated, introverted writers in Nicole Krauss's Great House, which I'd finished recently. But I liked the teacher well enough. Second, the mechanics of advancing through the mystery. I had a hard time accepting that people wouldn't take the threats and eventual deaths more seriously. I don't know; it's hard to get tone right in something like this, I suppose. There felt like there was a lot of repetition ("now we have to give up the class" "No no, we love the class; we must continue!"--this happens about four times.) Third, I wasn't a fan of the section where they read a play aloud. As with any mystery, it's fun to try to figure out whodunit, and in this story, it was interesting to think of the meta-game: what the author reveals, what things get foregrounded, what things get slipped in, where the focus it. Summary: It was a lot of fun, but I was a shade disappointed.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chance Lee

    I picked up The Writing Class after reading Jincy's story "The Best of Betty" in the David Sedalia-edited collection Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. "Betty" is a great story: a tragi-comic arc full of wit, pain, sadness, and humor. "Who is Jincy Willett?" I asked myself. Looking her up, I noticed The Writing Class, a book I'd noticed at the bookstore but never read. I should have. This book is the perfect fit for me right now. Amy Gallup is a failed writer. Well, that's how she sees I picked up The Writing Class after reading Jincy's story "The Best of Betty" in the David Sedalia-edited collection Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. "Betty" is a great story: a tragi-comic arc full of wit, pain, sadness, and humor. "Who is Jincy Willett?" I asked myself. Looking her up, I noticed The Writing Class, a book I'd noticed at the bookstore but never read. I should have. This book is the perfect fit for me right now. Amy Gallup is a failed writer. Well, that's how she sees herself. Her first book was published instantly. Her second book didn't sell as well. Her third book barely sold at all. She has lost two husbands, sank into depression, ballooned up in weight. Now she teaches a writing class and she hates EVERYONE in it. (Oh my god, it's like my own creative writing classes!) Then something happens: she gets a good class together. They might not all be writers, but they all have strong opinions and they're not afraid to share them. They criticize each other, but they all seem to get along. Amy starts to open up to them as well. Then something else happens: the Sniper. Someone in class is using his (or her!) writing skills against the class. They send secret scathing critiques to the other members in the class. They mimic everyone else's writing style impeccably, and they know exactly what buttons to push to get at their classmates. They're sadistic, angry, and, worst of all, having fun doing it. The Writing Class is about close reading. A good editor close reads a text to see what the point really is. Where is the heart of the story? The Writing Class is also about close reading people. Reading between the lines of the text people present as their persona. Where is their heart located? What do they really believe in? And, as the Sniper does, what can I do to really, truly, hurt them? Any skill has its light side and its dark side, and Jincy expertly explores them both. And, like in "Betty", she uses her skills at dark humor and extraordinary compassion to build a strong cast of characters whom I wouldn't mind taking a writing class with.

  14. 4 out of 5

    melissa

    A very interesting thing happened when I was reading this book. It hasn’t happened before. Several times throughout, I would think to myself, why am I reading this? It was entertaining enough, but I didn’t think I was really invested enough to continue. I would put it down and walk away for a while. I usually have several books on the go, but when I would sit down and debate what to read next, none of them appealed to me, and I always ended up back at this book. There was such a diverse cast of A very interesting thing happened when I was reading this book. It hasn’t happened before. Several times throughout, I would think to myself, why am I reading this? It was entertaining enough, but I didn’t think I was really invested enough to continue. I would put it down and walk away for a while. I usually have several books on the go, but when I would sit down and debate what to read next, none of them appealed to me, and I always ended up back at this book. There was such a diverse cast of characters, that by about half way through, I wanted to finish, just to see who done it (although, I’m not sure I WANTED it to be any of them). At the same time, I couldn’t be bothered to read any more, I couldn’t read anything else. Intriguing is the word that comes to mind that is appropriate. Has this every happened to anyone else? I did like the humor, but found it very literary, for a mystery, and sometimes that was distracting. I could relate in some ways to the main character, who wanted to be alone in her house with her books and her dog, but then other things I found so far fetched. Why was she always being talked in to things? Why did she keep coming back? Why did she set herself up for some of the scenarios to happen? The book was set up to alternate back and forth between her life, and the class. I love that in the chapters that were set in the classroom setting she shared snippets of the writing of her students. They ranged from really good to really bad, and every genre you could imagine. It added another depth to the story I wouldn’t expect. Although it could be seen as distracting, or irrelevant, I thought it told us quite a bit about the characters that wrote them. Am I pleased that I finished? Yes, there was pay off at the end. Would I go out hunting more of the same? Probably not.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    At a time when I was already in the middle of several other books (just as I am right now), the bookstore where I work got a shipment of new books in, and this one looked fascinating to me. I dropped everything else I was reading in order to blow through this book in about three days, and I never regretted it for a second. At first glance, "The Writing Class" might seem like a standard cozy mystery, one structured in a similar manner to the endless craft mysteries pumped out by Berkeley Prime Cr At a time when I was already in the middle of several other books (just as I am right now), the bookstore where I work got a shipment of new books in, and this one looked fascinating to me. I dropped everything else I was reading in order to blow through this book in about three days, and I never regretted it for a second. At first glance, "The Writing Class" might seem like a standard cozy mystery, one structured in a similar manner to the endless craft mysteries pumped out by Berkeley Prime Crime month after month. This is far from the truth, though. For one thing, the book's mystery elements seem more secondary than like the primary focus of the book. What this story is really about is a writing class, as detailed mostly from the perspective of its teacher, a middle-aged writer named Amy Gallup who hasn't published a novel in 20 years and does editing work from home in order to pay the bills. She doesn't need the pay from teaching the writing class, but she does it as a way to have regular contact with people other than herself. The group that takes her class in the fall semester of 2007 is unusually interesting, and includes a prankster with a mean streak that gets more vicious with each passing class. To tell you any more of the plot than this would be criminal, and with that in mind, please do not read the back of this book, as it spoils something that happens two-thirds of the way through it. But do read this book, as it is full of fascinating characters that are lifelike and multi-dimensional, and who have very entertaining interactions. There's also some interesting stuff about the art and craft of writing, which you the reader may find yourself learning alongside the students in the writing class. Perhaps my favorite element of this book was its casual but effective realism; none of the characters are living perfectly happy, fulfilled lives, but none of them seemed like overly maudlin sufferers, either. They just come across as real people, with the sorts of ups and downs that play out in normal lives. I wouldn't consider "The Writing Class" to be literary in any real way, but I do feel like it's an incredibly well-written book. A lot of more literary writings that I've read in my life have seemed almost to beat you over the head with their brilliance. They may be full of beautiful sentences, but those sentences almost seem to get in the way of the story they're telling. In "The Writing Class," Jincy Willett displays a much more subtle form of talent, writing quietly eloquent sentences full of intelligence and wit that could escape a reader's notice completely if they weren't looking for them. She proves that a writer doesn't have to write a big, important book to display a ton of talent. This is only her third book in over 20 years; here's hoping she writes more soon.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    I loved Jincy Willet’s hilarious second book about aging novelist and writing instructor Amy Gallup so much that I doubled back to read this first one. While this has the same main character and I enjoyed it a lot, The Writing Class is very different from its sequel and I liked the second book more. Amy Falls Down is absurd, funny, insightful, and moving, and while The Writing class has all of those qualities they aren’t as strong and it’s first and foremost a mystery--an element that is not par I loved Jincy Willet’s hilarious second book about aging novelist and writing instructor Amy Gallup so much that I doubled back to read this first one. While this has the same main character and I enjoyed it a lot, The Writing Class is very different from its sequel and I liked the second book more. Amy Falls Down is absurd, funny, insightful, and moving, and while The Writing class has all of those qualities they aren’t as strong and it’s first and foremost a mystery--an element that is not part of the second book about Amy Gallup at all. As a mystery, The Writing Class is a curious but interesting hybrid, part humorous cozy and part chilling psychological thriller. I have a low fear threshold so I may not be a good judge, but some sections of this book were the most chilling, scary reading I have done for a while. Guessing who the likely suspect was didn’t dissipate my unease at all--which greatly impresses me. Another very cool thing about this book is that Amy uses her skill as a writer and instructor of fiction to solve the crime. Both books featuring Amy Gallup would be great for wanna-be or beginning authors because a lot of discussion about the process of fiction writing is seamlessly integrated into the plot. As a side note, Amy Gallup, fictional character, has a website with the off putting title GO AWAY which includes crazy lists, mash-up titles with crossbred plot descriptions, and links to nowhere. It turns out Jincy Willet, real life novelist, has a similarly eccentric website, I WOULD NOT BURN THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA FOR YOU, that’s worth checking out if you enjoy her writing. http://www.jincywillett.com/journal/p...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I'm sure this review will be helpful to no one, but I'll write it anyway. As an English/Literature nerd I really enjoyed this book. The main character is a bitter, overweight, reclusive writer that hasn't written anything in years. She teaches a writing class in the evening. As the class progresses, students start receiving threats in the form of letters, pranks, and pictures. The instructor, Amy, also starts getting threatening letters and phone calls. She knows the culprit is someone in the cl I'm sure this review will be helpful to no one, but I'll write it anyway. As an English/Literature nerd I really enjoyed this book. The main character is a bitter, overweight, reclusive writer that hasn't written anything in years. She teaches a writing class in the evening. As the class progresses, students start receiving threats in the form of letters, pranks, and pictures. The instructor, Amy, also starts getting threatening letters and phone calls. She knows the culprit is someone in the class, and she starts working with the group to figure out who it is. Throughout the story there are excerpts of the students' creative writing assignments and letters from the bad guy, which I found super cool. The story was different. I really liked that. After reading tons of she-met-a-guy-and-lived-happily-ever-after crap this book was refreshing. The story was original, and the mystery was fun. After the introduction of the students in the class I kept trying to figure out who the bad guy was. The students' writing examples kind of give clues as to who it might be. If you are interested in the creative writing process, you're tired of the same flighty, brainless female lead, and you're a huge nerd (like me), then you'll probably like this book. I thought it was a lot of fun. If you're not interested in writing, literature, and you hate fun, interesting mysteries, then don't read this.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Jesinghaus

    I loved this book! Laugh out loud funny while managing to balance a muder mystery suspense? That's talent. I found the main character of Amy, while neurotic and with enough insecurities to fill a house, a totally lovable woman. Her inner dialogues were hilarious. Then there's the idea of a murder mystery centered around a college extension writer's workshop within which lurks an angry, rejected-author-turned-psychotic-murderer seeking to mete out some type of twisted justice for all the wrongs (r I loved this book! Laugh out loud funny while managing to balance a muder mystery suspense? That's talent. I found the main character of Amy, while neurotic and with enough insecurities to fill a house, a totally lovable woman. Her inner dialogues were hilarious. Then there's the idea of a murder mystery centered around a college extension writer's workshop within which lurks an angry, rejected-author-turned-psychotic-murderer seeking to mete out some type of twisted justice for all the wrongs (read "publisher rejections") he/she has endured. The supporting cast was a buffet of notable characters, each with their own potential to fill the shoes of a crazy killer. Any fan of murder mysteries should enjoy this book, but authors in particular will probably take great joy in reading this one. I know I did.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    This book opened with so much promise--I was loving it, laughing aloud nearly every other page!--but it petered out for me towards the middle. Having taken many writing workshops, I loved the set-up of the novel (there's almost always writing in any writing class that spawns laughter); I also found Amy's website so funny it gave me side stitches. And I liked Amy, not to mention loved her back story--it comes out at the end and is very powerful, yet by that point I was no longer invested in the c This book opened with so much promise--I was loving it, laughing aloud nearly every other page!--but it petered out for me towards the middle. Having taken many writing workshops, I loved the set-up of the novel (there's almost always writing in any writing class that spawns laughter); I also found Amy's website so funny it gave me side stitches. And I liked Amy, not to mention loved her back story--it comes out at the end and is very powerful, yet by that point I was no longer invested in the characters. They just didn't seem to develop at all. I was frustrated and bored with the long scene of Dot's play and thought the final face-off between the protagonist and the villain was unrealistic and unexciting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Margo Candela

    This was my second Jincy Willett novel and I'm officially a fan. This was my second Jincy Willett novel and I'm officially a fan.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Very fun page-turner. The tone reminded me a bit of Lisa Lutz's writing with both suspense and cheek. Very fun page-turner. The tone reminded me a bit of Lisa Lutz's writing with both suspense and cheek.

  22. 5 out of 5

    M

    Perhaps it is unfair to give a low grade due to failed expectations - as someone who teaches creative writing in high school, I am therefore that much more excited and that much more critical when it comes to a novel with that premise - I want it to resonate with me more so than the usual book and when it doesn;t I am that much more dismayed. There are a few ways in which this work failed me, and it is hard to know how much is the author's fault. This is about a writing class with the usual cast o Perhaps it is unfair to give a low grade due to failed expectations - as someone who teaches creative writing in high school, I am therefore that much more excited and that much more critical when it comes to a novel with that premise - I want it to resonate with me more so than the usual book and when it doesn;t I am that much more dismayed. There are a few ways in which this work failed me, and it is hard to know how much is the author's fault. This is about a writing class with the usual cast of characters (none of whom I found particularly interesting - in Willett's attempt to produce colorful 'I so know that person' characters I only found all the more one dimensional steretypes who weren;t even that well sketched, and I couldn;t keep track of them either) and their writing samples, none of which I liked - I was hoping for either laugh out loud bad or really impressive and instead they all fell flat to me, as did the feedback of the group - all of this was meant to be a backdrop to a creepy murder mystery as one member of the group is actually an angry unpublished writer who is doing all kinds of creepy things and then people begin to die. So, I don't do mysteries - I can never really figure them out, and I generally don't care enough to because authors often end up sacrificing character development in order to advance the plot, and the plot itself is unrealistic and convenience driven so as to create perfect crimes that keep us guessing blah blah blah. What troubled me was that not so much, as much as I think Willett wanted this to be different - a deeper book, a more subtle book with more going on, and I just didn't feel that was so. She tried hard to be funny - too hard - and failed - she tried to get me to care about the chracters and there was no way that was happening - and ultimately, there is something just sad about a book dealing with a writing class that is not well written. It shifted from being too obvious to totally unclear, the dialogue was poor and at the end of the day all you had left was reading it to see who did it. That in itself was not as much a surprise as the author clearly hoped it would be, so there really isn't a lot here to applaud. I will say that I resonated with the writing teacher's mantras and class set up, that was definitely familiar, (which reinforces my first question, how much is an author to blame if you jusat find that you were ;supposed' to relate to a book and didn;t, or praise him if 'all' he did was recreate something you have experienced) and the occasional philosophical turn hit the spot (there is a part where the teacher comments that she puts the phone down when someone is about to talk about her - as in, 'Carla, it';s Amy on the phone, you know that teacher who XYZ ...' not because she can;t handle whatever will be said but because on a metaphysical level having people comment on her reminds her too much that she is part of the human race, which she knows intellectually but resists emotionally. Well I TOTALLY get that and enjoyed it. So is the bottom line that reading is all about you? Maybe for me it is. Hm.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lorie Kleiner Eckert

    Jincy Willett has two books out that star Amy Gallup. In both Amy is a published author who teaches writing classes and in both the novel is used to teach readers about the art of writing. In this book, the writing class is actually taught. I think there are a dozen students who we need to get to know and then we need to get to know their writing samples a well - and we need to critique them and learn about writing through them. But then, one of the class members starts to do weird and scary thi Jincy Willett has two books out that star Amy Gallup. In both Amy is a published author who teaches writing classes and in both the novel is used to teach readers about the art of writing. In this book, the writing class is actually taught. I think there are a dozen students who we need to get to know and then we need to get to know their writing samples a well - and we need to critique them and learn about writing through them. But then, one of the class members starts to do weird and scary things and soon there is a murder and then there is a second murder. Thus the book turns into a whodunit with the original writing samples as part of the evidence the class and the reader have to examine as we all try to figure out who the bad guy is. I am not a lover of mysteries and there were far too many suspects for me to keep track of in my head and I certainly couldn’t remember which student wrote which short story and what it said about them. So over all, I finished the book just to find out who the murderer was and why that person resorted to murder. The second Amy Gallup story, Amy Falls Down, was much more satisfying and that is the one I recommend.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I love stories about writing workshops. They make me laugh. They are usually well-written, too, and this one is no exception. I only had a few issues: 1. Amy says she uses a hotmail address when she clearly was using something else at the beginning? At first I thought this was a clue of some sort but it seems to just be a mistake. 2. The cover is great and caught my attention at the bookstore but it doesn't suit the story at all and I don't see how a lot of the labels fit the characters in the boo I love stories about writing workshops. They make me laugh. They are usually well-written, too, and this one is no exception. I only had a few issues: 1. Amy says she uses a hotmail address when she clearly was using something else at the beginning? At first I thought this was a clue of some sort but it seems to just be a mistake. 2. The cover is great and caught my attention at the bookstore but it doesn't suit the story at all and I don't see how a lot of the labels fit the characters in the book. In fact, I suspect as usual that the designer did not read the book. 3. There were too many elements to the story and too much going on. They all added something but it made the story drag. The weird focus on all their names seemed unnecessary too. This reminded me a little of the following books: Famous Writers School, The Memory Artists, Last Act (Christopher Pike), The Westing Game, and the movie Clue. Good stuff. Grade: A-

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tamsen

    Two stars is deceptive, but I think ultimately what this book deserves. I really, really enjoyed the book when all the characters met as a writing class. I liked Amy's redirects and the class comments on each piece of work. I thought Amy was a well-rounded character (and clearly from the author's GR bio, a tad autobiographical) - the rest of the class not as much, unfortunately. I could have read this as a stand alone fiction book about a cast of aspiring writers. The mystery did nothing for me Two stars is deceptive, but I think ultimately what this book deserves. I really, really enjoyed the book when all the characters met as a writing class. I liked Amy's redirects and the class comments on each piece of work. I thought Amy was a well-rounded character (and clearly from the author's GR bio, a tad autobiographical) - the rest of the class not as much, unfortunately. I could have read this as a stand alone fiction book about a cast of aspiring writers. The mystery did nothing for me here. I also hate the cover. I know you can't see it in the photo, but around the title are cliched types of characters, like the pretty girl, the classy woman, the fat girl, the lawyer. I didn't even want to read this based on the cover. I think the cliches are odd here, because they really don't match up with any of the characters except on a very superficial level. I thought it was an odd choice for the publisher.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Terra

    This is what happens when you don't read jacket copy. I thought this was going to be a humorous, quirky story about a community writing course full of literary duds and amusing references to classic literature. While I wasn't disappointed there, the story takes a sharp turn into a suspenseful but never truly frightening murder mystery. It's an enjoyable and quick read, full of entertaining scenes such as a classroom's attempts to uncover the motivations and character of a murderer based on a lit This is what happens when you don't read jacket copy. I thought this was going to be a humorous, quirky story about a community writing course full of literary duds and amusing references to classic literature. While I wasn't disappointed there, the story takes a sharp turn into a suspenseful but never truly frightening murder mystery. It's an enjoyable and quick read, full of entertaining scenes such as a classroom's attempts to uncover the motivations and character of a murderer based on a literary analysis of a threatening letter. While not completely unpredictable, it's a fun romp of a book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I really, really loved this book... which I picked up at the library on the assumption that it would be a B-lister which I could easily handle while on newborn patrol. Not so: in fact, I more or less ignored my newborn during the day I was reading it (RELAX, only to the extent that one can safely and responsibly ignore a newborn... I would have finished the book in three hours if I weren't nursing, relocating, or tickling). It was simultaneously well constructed, warmly funny, sharply satirical, I really, really loved this book... which I picked up at the library on the assumption that it would be a B-lister which I could easily handle while on newborn patrol. Not so: in fact, I more or less ignored my newborn during the day I was reading it (RELAX, only to the extent that one can safely and responsibly ignore a newborn... I would have finished the book in three hours if I weren't nursing, relocating, or tickling). It was simultaneously well constructed, warmly funny, sharply satirical, intensely observant, and scary as shit, and no, I don't know how you do all those things at once without having a huge tone issue.

  28. 5 out of 5

    audrey

    Clever in parts, but not clever enough, and the cast of thousands got very confusing. And I didn't care for the redemption arc of the main character ((view spoiler)[giving up your hermitude and embracing other people = happiness! (hide spoiler)] ), but it does pass the Bechdel Test. Content note: (view spoiler)[Alphonse the basset hound is temporarily misplaced at one point, but only for about 10 minutes and he's fine. (hide spoiler)] Clever in parts, but not clever enough, and the cast of thousands got very confusing. And I didn't care for the redemption arc of the main character ((view spoiler)[giving up your hermitude and embracing other people = happiness! (hide spoiler)] ), but it does pass the Bechdel Test. Content note: (view spoiler)[Alphonse the basset hound is temporarily misplaced at one point, but only for about 10 minutes and he's fine. (hide spoiler)]

  29. 4 out of 5

    Trina

    I read these two books, The Writing Class and Amy Falls Down, in opposite order. The Writing Class is a kind of murder mystery, and although I enjoyed it, I didn't like it as much as Amy Falls Down. I like Jincy Willett's writing a lot: she's funny but really articulate and adult. The character of Amy is great: a middle-aged wine-drinking out-of-shape misanthropic writing teacher with a heart of gold and a funny blog. There's something about murder mysteries though. The mystery drives the whole I read these two books, The Writing Class and Amy Falls Down, in opposite order. The Writing Class is a kind of murder mystery, and although I enjoyed it, I didn't like it as much as Amy Falls Down. I like Jincy Willett's writing a lot: she's funny but really articulate and adult. The character of Amy is great: a middle-aged wine-drinking out-of-shape misanthropic writing teacher with a heart of gold and a funny blog. There's something about murder mysteries though. The mystery drives the whole book, so that other things must take second place -- interpersonal relationships, other plot developments, etc. Still, I really enjoyed this novel.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I love the character, Amy, in this book and Amy Falls Down.

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