So, yesterday in the midst of a tiresome afternoon — it’s hot (anyone else noticed that?), I have a sinus infection, the doctor prescribed what turned out to be $115 worth of antibiotics when I am pretty confident what I have falls in the “under $15” category of illness and it took roughly 5,000 phone calls to sort it all out — I remembered that Jincy Willett’s new book, The Writing Class, came out this week.
I love Willett’s book of short stories, Jenny and the Jaws of Life, without reservation, and I’ve been dying to read this new novel since Gwenda started raving about it in email a couple months ago. And it seemed like a great bit of luck that it’s finally, finally out and available and I could croak over to the bookstore and get a copy to cheer up a lousy day.
So far it’s marvelous — very, very funny and sly in bits, and then sometimes very, very funny in a broad sort of way in others. I think the humor would appeal to just about anyone, but if you’ve ever been in a writing class, or in a position to review a broad spectrum of other people’s writing (e.g., slush pile reader), you may be particularly partial to the comedy.
Here’s one of the broader bits. After the first night’s class, Amy Gallup, the class instructor, has brought home the manuscript of one of her student’s, Dr. Richard Surtees, to read (he being the sort of student who arrives at class with 20 copies of his novel all printed out):
According to his secretary’s yellow Post-it, Amy was privileged to hold roughly half of something called Code Black: A Medical Thriller. Having watched both parents and her first husband waste away in hospitals, Amy was never thrilled by anything medical, but she always tried, when confronted with this genre in class, to put her feelings aside. As she reminded her students, they were each entitled to objective critical response, not a catalog of their critics’ tastes.
A quick glance-through told her that Surtees had cast his protagonist in that heroic mold so commonly used by doctors who want to write fiction. Unlike other professionals, physicians rarely viewed themselves with anything approaching ironic detachment–which was probably good for their patients, but not so hot for their readers. Surtees’s hero was a world-class neurosurgeon, a black belt in Karate, a distinguished amateur cellist who had studied with Pablo Casals (You have a great gift,” the old man had admonished him severely, “and you toss it away to save a few insignificant lives!”), and Merlin the Magnificent in the sack.
The plot of Code Black was apparently going to be one of those convoluted deals involving a lot of esoteric medical words and government acronyms (in an ominous footnote, Surtees promised a twenty-page glossary), and would revolve around a worldwide bioterrorist threat amplified by a perfidious liberal cabal hell-bent on imposing socialized medicine on a gullible public.
“‘What do we do now,’ Senator?” snarled Black, almost spitting in his disgust. “Why, we send each plague-ridden citizen of Manhattan to his primary healthcare provider!”
Visit here for Gwenda’s recent Q & A with Willett.