Friday, October 24, 2014

Amy Falls Down, by Jincy Willett

I have remarked before about the odd way in which themes suddenly and unintentionally emerge in my reading. Amy Falls Down is my third recent book about writing and authors--and it is by far my favorite.

Amy Gallup is a 60ish author who has not published a book for 60 years. She lives in San Diego and teaches on-line writing classes. She used to teach face-to-face workshops, but then one of her students started killing others in the workshop, and she gave those classes up; in fact, she seems to have little contact with other people.

One night she goes falls in her yard, knocking herself out on the birdbath. The next morning, somewhat balmy from the blow to the head, she is interviewed for an article in the local newspaper and she comes across so bizarrely in the story that it goes viral. People suddenly want her to be on their radio shows or make an appearance at their event. Although she initially resists, her recently reemergent agent Maxine convinces her to assent to a few appearances, and soon her sense of humor and no-nonsense approach have made her a sensation. Her new-found celebrity gives Amy a chance to rail against writers' conferences, agents, the literary publicity machine, and more.

At the same time, however, Amy has also begun to leave her house more often to engage with real people. She begins teaching a hand-picked group of aspiring writers whom her friend Carla has gathered around her in a "writer's retreat" that does not resemble any description you've ever read of MacDowell or Yaddo. She cannot enter a more active social life without thinking about the life she and her beloved husband Max, a gay friend she married so he could avoid the draft, shared . . . and about the betrayal she discovered after Max's death from AIDS. Perhaps most remarkably, Amy also begins to write again.

Amy's adventures as a media celebrity allow Willett to satirize the memoir fad, chick lit, endless conversations about the writer's process, writer's colonies, anti-intellectual talk show hosts, agents, drunken male authors, YouTube trailers for books, blogs (Amy has a blog titled "Go Away," on which the list of her own books is buried six levels down), and countless other aspects of the literary world and popular culture. At the same time, however, Willett defends the work of the writer as valuable and difficult, pays tribute to agents, and provides glimpses into one writer's process (Amy writes down unusual/intriguing phrases she hears in conversation, which she then uses as titles for stories that may have nothing to do with the context in which she heard the phrase).

Amy Falls Down takes place almost entirely in Amy's head, and it is a very entertaining place to be. Willett creates a unique voice and gives that voice some wonderful ideas, sentences, and phrases to express; I will not soon forget the term "irony klaxon" or the description of a hotel lobby as "aggressively rectangular." I was sad when this funny and yet somehow touching book ended.

Favorite passages:
Fiction, when it's done right, does in the daylight what dreams do at night; we leave the confines of our own experiences and go to common ground, where for a time we are not alone.

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