Amy Gallup is an aging novelist and writing instructor living in Escondido, California, with her dog, Alphonse. Since recent unsettling events, she has made some progress. While she still has writer’s block, she doesn’t suffer from it. She’s still a hermit, but she has allowed some of her class members into her life.
Amy Falls Down is the sequel to The Writing Class; however, I read Amy Falls Down first (I haven’t read The Writing Class yet), and it stands up on its own as a novel. There is what I assume to be several spoilers of the ending of the first book, but other than that, Amy Falls Down works as its own novel. Amy is a novelist who hasn’t written for decades. She prefers the hermit life, but one day she takes a tumble in her garden, hitting her head on the bird bath and coming to some time later. Amy’s fall triggers a string of events which somehow lead to her being rediscovered as a novelist. Her old agent calls her up on the phone and starts booking events for her, she is talked into consulting a small group of writers at her friend’s new writing retreat, and she even starts writing short stories again. Through all of the publicity and attention, Amy suffers from impostor’s syndrome, firmly believing everything that has happened since her fall is chance and circumstance and even a bit of luck. Because of this, she copes with her burgeoning celebrity in a dismissive, detached way that only draws more followers.
Willett’s writing is filled with dry humor, and I found myself actually chuckling aloud every few minutes as I was reading. I haven’t been so amused by a book in years. Amy embodies the snarky old woman who pretends she doesn’t like to be disturbed but who actually enjoys the adventures she winds up on quite a bit. She strongly reminds me of old Sophie in the movie version of Howl’s Moving Castle. She’s not afraid to dismiss something as ridiculous, and she puts on an air of wanting to be left alone but she actually misses the company of her friends when she does find herself alone.
If I tried to recount the many misadventures Amy finds herself on in this book, the list would sound unbelievably ridiculous, but within the context of the novel, each misadventure sounds entirely plausible and even standard. Willett writes about the experience of being an author in such a refreshing way. Writers writing about writing or the author life is a big hit or miss niche topic for me, since half of the time the authors are fresh out of MFA programs and desperate to be published, so their first novel is all about a fictional character who is trying to make it big as a writer and is usually in or fresh out of an MFA program: it’s thinly-veiled autobiography, and it’s usually clear the author had no idea what to write about so they took the “write what you know” advice and ran with it. Those books are usually boring headaches that make me dislike every writer who ever got an MFA and wrote about the experience. Willett, on the other hand, refreshingly pokes fun of the writing life at every opportunity, and anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming a writer or who knows enough about the writing sphere will love the fact that Amy does not take herself seriously. Nor does she expect others to take her seriously, though she is flattered and embarrassed when they do.
Amy Falls Down is a delightfully entertaining novel filled with honesty and humor. Even if you are not a fan of the writing life, you will still get a kick out of the binds Amy finds herself in. Oh, and there’s a basset hound, too.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Thomas Dunne Books, May 1, 2013, 324 pages
CATEGORY: literary fiction, humorous fiction