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Review: The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

Review: The Writing Class by Jincy Willett post image

Title: The Writing Class
Author: Jincy Willett
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2008
Acquired: Borrowed from the library.
Rating: ★★★½☆

One Sentence Summary: A community college writing seminar is terrorized by a prankster with nefarious intentions.

One Sentence Review: Willitt’s book mixes genres and structure to deliver a well-written mystery novel and fun example of metafiction without being too thinky.

Why I Read It: I read a lot of good reviews and finally decided this would be a book to read during the Halloween season.

Long Review: I decided to get my butt in gear and actually read The Writing Class by Jincy Willett (instead of just reading other reviews and thinking about reading it), after Steph of Steph & Tony Investigate wrote a review full of reasons why I thought I’d love this book. For example:

  • “I mean, a novel that is both a satire AND a mystery novel all rolled up in one and focuses on the art (or lack thereof) of writing? What could be better than that?”
  • “This novel was a flat-out joy to read. It was SO fun.”
  • “Using a writing class as the platform for a story was a fun way to play with the narrative and structure of the novel, and as such, I thought the story worked well as both an interesting piece of metafiction as well as straightforward piece of fiction.”

And with that, I have nothing more to say.

Just kidding!

First of all, you should obviously click over to Steph’s review to read it in full, I just wanted to give a flavor of the ways in which I agree with her, and why on earth someone as fiction-snobby as me really enjoyed this book.

The Writing Class is a mystery novel with snatches of metafiction and musing on writing. It takes place in a community college writing workshop, headed by 60-year-old Amy Gallup – a burned out author slowly sliding into obscurity after making it big as a debut author in her twenties. Today, she writes snippet author biographies for a reference book and teaches a continuing education writing classes.

This particular session of the class starts out fine, until one of the students begins playing pranks that start out harmless but soon devolve to serious threats. Is there a clue in the writing assignments they’ve turned in that would point to the killer?

The book is fun to read on a whole number of levels. The mystery is well-developed and well-plotted, presenting possible pranksters then seeming to move them away from suspicion. I really didn’t figure out the whodunit until it was revealed, which I liked.

And the setting of a writing workshop is generally hilarious for anyone who has been a part of one (or thinks they might join). Willett pokes fun at all the stereotypical people who join those classes – the perennial suck up, the aspiring mystery writer, the angry feminist twentysomething, the positive housewife – then goes on to explore their different facets. By the end, it’s clear that even the most annoying of the students has something important to say, and that there can be value found in even the most atrocious submissions.

The structure of the book also offers some fun. Willett adds blog posts, angry letters, e-mails, and samples of the students’ writing to give the story a whole host of voices to enjoy. Although Amy is the center of the class and the story, all the characters get a chance to speak which also helps round them out.

In general, I just thought this book was a lot of fun. I’m not sure it’s one I’d re-read, but I’ve found myself recommending it as an example of a well-done mystery that would appeal to people not normally inclined to read the genre, particularly those with a love of writing.

Other Reviews: Mysteries in Paradise | Lost in Books | Steph & Tony Investigate | Shelf Love |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anna October 26, 2010, 7:47 am

    Sounds like it’s worth checking out!

    • Kim October 26, 2010, 6:21 pm

      Anna: Yeah, I think it is, you’ll know within a few chapters if it’s a book you’ll enjoy.

  • Steph October 26, 2010, 8:46 am

    Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed this (and that I didn’t steer you wrong)! I thought the mystery was fairly solid, but for me the writing class sessions were definitely what made the book so great. I cracked up so much while reading about the class dynamics and all the “characters” who would take a writing class. Apart from the deadly dealings, it sounded like so much fun! Definitely a great Halloween pick!

    • Kim October 26, 2010, 6:23 pm

      Steph: I’m glad too! I agree – the mystery was fine, but the writing classes were just precious. I could imagine people I know that reminded me of the characters, at least in the roles they served in the workshop. It was quite funny 🙂

  • BuriedInPrint October 26, 2010, 9:02 am

    I’ve picked this up so many times: you really do make it sound like fun!

    • Kim October 26, 2010, 6:23 pm

      BuriedInPrint: It was a lot of fun – you should give it a try.

  • Trisha October 26, 2010, 6:40 pm

    Sounds like a perfect book for a composition instructor. 🙂

    • Kim October 28, 2010, 5:18 pm

      Trisha: Yes, it does! I think you’d find it really funny.

  • nat @book, line, and sinker October 26, 2010, 9:56 pm

    steph writes such great reviews–i always take her recommendations! i’m going to add this to my hold list at the library. thanks for the review. 🙂

    • Kim October 28, 2010, 5:19 pm

      nat: She really does – they’re so in-depth I always get a good sense if a book will be for me or not.

  • S. Krishna October 28, 2010, 8:34 am

    I totally agree this book was a lot of fun! Great review!

    • Kim October 28, 2010, 5:19 pm

      S. Krishna: Thanks! A very fun book.

  • kay @ Infiniteshelf October 31, 2010, 2:12 am

    I’m happy to hear you enjoyed this one! I read it a couple of years ago and really enjoyed how it mixed dark humor, mystery and writing. Great review!

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:57 am

      Kay: Yeah, exactly – the mix works really well in this book, I think.

  • Christopher December 7, 2010, 6:58 am

    Just a heads up that Jincy Willett has an interview and a NEW story at Metazen on December 9.

    • Kim December 9, 2010, 9:19 pm

      Christopher: Thanks for the note, I’ll be sure to look at it.