Amy Gallup is a crotchety, misanthropic 60-year-old author and writing teacher who would strongly prefer to be left alone. At home. With her basset hound, Alphonse. (Her mantra, in Willett’s prequel, The Writing Class: Kill Me Now). [While some of the other characters from the first novel reappear in this one, I think either book can stand alone. But if you’re like me, you may want to get your hands on The Writing Class, too, to get another dose of Amy.]
While she has mellowed a bit since the first book, Amy is still not what you’d call warm and fuzzy. She knows her tolerance limits for human shenanigans, and they’re very low. But a spill she takes in her own backyard, and the resulting blow to the head, triggers a series of blackouts, some uncharacteristically open behavior on her part, an uptick in her writing output, and a rekindling of critical interest in her writing — as well as some unwished-for fame.
Here is part of her description of the fall that started everything:
Because the Norfolk pine was heavy, and also because she was wearing house slippers, having not yet dressed for the day, Amy took her time getting to the raised garden. Her house slippers were fuzzy, oversized, and floppy, and if she moved too fast, she would walk right out of them.
She was not yet dressed for the day because she had no reason to dress until much later, at which time she’d have to dress uncomfortably, and she was in no hurry to do that. At three o’clock a reporter from The San Diego Union-Tribune was coming to interview Amy as part of some bogus series about local writers…
She shuffled closer to the raised garden, as the screen door banged behind her and Alphonse jingled past and up ahead of her, his great basset nose zeroing in on the very spot where she planned to dig… “No!” she shouted… she shuffled a little faster, intent on reaching her goal before Alphonse fully committed himself to his, and when she came to the raised garden, her eyes fixed on Alphonse, and lifted her right foot to step onto the low brick wall, she misjudged its elevation by perhaps a quarter inch, not enough to stub her toes and trip, just enough to throw her very slightly off-balance, the sole of her foot catching and scraping on the rough brick… she was thinking about three different things, Alphonse, her toes, and the Norfolk pine, so that somehow her balance shifted forward, and certain physical forces, inertia and momentum, began to announce themselves, clearing their throats politely. All was not lost at this point, they said, but a fall was possible, and Amy, over-thinking as usual, realizing that in such a fall the pine might suffer irreparably, focused on cradling it in such a way that it would not suffer, as though she were sixteen years old and lithe and presented with a smorgasbord of landing-position selections, none of which would injure her in the slightest…
From there, the plot is off and running. Amy is quickly pulled into book signings, radio shows, and online controversies. She didn’t want any of this, really, but she finds herself swept into it anyway.
Willett has admitted in an interview with Mark Mustian on the Furious Fiction website that, while she and Amy have different biographies, spiritually they’re “pretty much identical.” For me, this book was a perfect mix of laugh-out-loud humor, poignancy, and quirky characters.
Author photo: metazen.tumblr.com