f 60 is the new 50, sardonic Amy Gallup, introduced in Jincy Willett’s The Writing Class and now reappearing in a delicious sequel Amy Falls Down, hasn’t heard about it. At 62, Amy, a semi-reclusive has-been author who hasn’t written anything in years, is making a living teaching writing online. She is an overweight, curmudgeon who has fairly resigned herself to a lonely, bleak old age. But on one morning when she is scheduled to give an interview to a local journalist, while carrying a Norfolk pine out of her house to plant in her garden, she falls, hits her head on a birdbath. She gives the interview in a state of shock, not really in control, and her whole life changes.
On one level the novel is an exploration of the role accident plays in a person’s life as against the idea that everything that happens is part of some meaningful plan — divine or otherwise. From the first accidental fall through an elaborate series of incidents and misunderstandings with completely unintended consequences, Amy’s reputation is resurrected. She begins writing again, and she moves back out, albeit reluctantly, but hilariously, unto the literary scene.
And on another level the book becomes a critique of that scene with its emphasis on marketing authors through web sites and interviews, book tours and how-to-do-it seminars, lectures and panel discussions. Writers, Amy believes, should write. They shouldn’t spend their time talking about writing. Readers should read; they shouldn’t spend their time listening to writers talk about writing. And when she finds herself out on the literary treadmill spouting these ideas, her direct openness and honesty make her a celebrity. Whether she is taking aim at her inane colleagues or and the literary establishment, she revels in ridicule, and everyone, or almost everyone, loves her for it.
There is even advice for novices who think that because what they are describing really happened it is worth writing about; after all, she has been teaching writing. Amy makes a case for the necessity that fiction try to make sense out of what happened. “We don’t read fiction,” she tells her students, “to learn facts; we read it to make sense.” It is not important for fiction that a story really happened. Verisimilitude: it is important that the reader is made to believe that it could have happened. “It was the writer’s job,” she says, “to make the events plausible.”
It would also be a good idea to make that fiction entertaining; Jincy Willet manages that in spades. Amy Gallup is a fascinating creation with a unique outlook on the world she finds herself living in. She has her flaws and inconsistencies, but these are the things that humanize her and make her views worth the reader’s time. Meeting her in the pages of Amy Falls Down is a true pleasure.
I should add that the book is filled with characters drawn from the current literary scene. Whether these are types or thinly disguised caricatures of real people as in the roman à clef, I leave to the reader. Either way, this is one thoroughly amusing piece of work.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00FGVOFOU,B00DEM1POG]