The Writing Class

This latest novel from Jincy Willett, who wrote the well-liked Winner of the National Book Award, focuses on an extension school class of would-be fiction writers; its premise is that years of rejection slips have pushed one of those would-be writers from the cliffs of sanity into the realm of murder. It?s a mystery from the Agatha Christie vintage. Most of the characters, at some point, stumble into the glare of suspicion, and Amy Gallup, a washed-up novelist and the class instructor, must play detective. Francine Prose?s Blue Angel and Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys also harvested satire from the vanity, fecklessness, and unintentional comedy of a writing workshop, but they didn?t rack up a body count. The idea of a failed writer?s anger turning murderous has a giddy verve, and the novel?s tone is appropriately playful. Events ultimately reach a helium pitch of incredibility, but the volume rises with deceptive gradualness, in part because Willett gives her protagonist a rich, idiosyncratic inner life. The author remains attentive, also, to the ways that language shapes and animates character. Amy keeps a blog with lists of "funny-looking words"; one female workshop participant grows increasingly consternated over the default use of masculine pronouns. Even as Amy expatiates to her pupils on the rules of good storytelling, elsewhere the book cheerfully violates them. The cleverest trick comes, finally, when the murderer?s own notes are exposed to the harsh atmosphere of a good ?workshopping.? If life and death fall under the rubric of morality, the novel argues entertainingly, then so do mixed metaphors, bad dialogue, and clich‚. Off with their heads.

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.