Title: The Writing Class
Author: Jincy Willett
Publisher: Scribe 
No. of pages: 326
Amy Gallup is a writer-turned-teacher who runs an evening fiction-writing course. Her current class is turning out to be surprisingly enjoyable for Amy as the students are clever and seem willing to enter into the spirit of critiquing each other’s work. However an undercurrent of hostility creeps in when someone who Amy christens The Sniper starts playing nasty pranks on both the teacher and fellow students.
I nearly didn’t read this book because when I got it home from the library I discovered that one of the prominently placed pull quotes on the cover was something gushing by David Sedaris. I am, apparently, the only person on the planet who doesn’t find Sedaris’ own writing amusing and assumed that if he liked it I would not. As I had dragged it all the way home I set out, albeit with low expectations, and happily, enjoyed it spite of myself (and Sedaris) and vowed, once again, to wage a campaign to rid the world of publicity blurbs on books because they do more harm than good.
The characters are terrific. Amy is a loner afraid of being alone, a writer with the misfortune of having had her first book published and has a dozen more quirks. Often I find fictional people with loads of oddities to be unbelievable but I didn’t experience that with Amy. Her foibles and peculiar behaviours were all explained naturally and I not only found her credible but I liked her. A lot. She’s witty, self-deprecating but not depressingly so and clever. Her students fulfil more stereotypical roles but as that is partially their purpose it doesn’t detract from the story and they do manage to surprise on occasion. I was thoroughly enthralled by the depiction of the shifting group dynamics and the development of the characters, much of which is done via their writing and the critique of it. Of course as Amy delivers her mini lectures about what makes good (and bad) writing I was applying that information to what I was reading and, for the most part, found Willett had taken her own character’s advice.
Structurally the book tries several different things and most of them work. The backbone consists of chapters for each class and these include snippets of each student’s writing which are discussed and dissected. In between there are chapters told from Amy’s point of view, extracts from Amy’s blog and diary entries from The Sniper. This could have been confusing but Willett has done a good job of pulling all these elements together to form a narrative. There is one part, a mystery play that one of the students has written that is acted out by the other students, that I failed to see the point of and found incongruous with the rest of the story but it wasn’t jarring enough to detract too much.
In pure mystery terms the plot is less successful than the character development and structure. The police show no interest in any of the nastier events that take place which is not terribly credible and the traditional whodunit with an ever decreasing pool of suspects isn’t done all that well. There’s never more than a vague suspicious shadow cast over any one person and when the villain was finally revealed there wasn’t a huge amount tying them back to an intricately woven trail of evidence. However I really didn’t care about this too much as I was enjoying the non-mystery elements of the story and all the rest the book had to offer.
So I’m not sure this book is really crime fiction although as I seem to be saying that rather a lot lately maybe I just don’t understand the term anymore. Still, I can imagine recommending this to people I know who don’t like reading traditional crime fiction and wouldn’t suggest it for hard core mystery lovers at all. There were aspects of a decent ‘chic-lit’ (I hate that term) title such as Jane Green’s The Beach House but it also reminded me of Ben Elton’s Dead Famous in the way it cleverly deals with archetypes and applies a liberal does of satire to events. Whatever genre it might be I found it a thoroughly entertaining and witty book.
My rating 4/5