Jincy Willett

Here is the order in which I have been on a Jincy Willett kick:

(photo from Amazon.com)

(photo from Amazon.com)

First: Amy Falls Down. I found this on the library’s New Books shelf and thought it looked like just my sort of thing. When I finished the book (having confirmed my guess about it being just my sort of thing), I noticed there were quotes on the back of it from David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. I looked up Jincy Willett online, and found that David Sedaris is the guy who brought her to national attention. Which is interesting when combined with the plot of Amy Falls Down, which is about an older female writer who is brought to national attention by lucky fluke.

All through the book I kept saying to Paul things like, “This is DIFFERENT. This is my kind of thing, but in a way I can’t figure out how to say it.” There are a few authors I’ve reacted to this way over the years: I’ll be reading along and I start thinking, “Wait. What is this. What is happening here.” Authors who make me lose appropriate punctuation. I’m not saying YOU will necessarily feel the same way, but David Sedaris and I are in agreement and maybe you would be too.


(photo from Amazon.com)

(photo from Amazon.com)

Next I requested Jenny and the Jaws of Life through the library system, because our library didn’t have a copy. I liked this book less. One reason is that I rarely like short stories. (They are too short, which is similar to the reason Paul’s grandmother didn’t like cats: “Too soft.”) But also, I felt like I was pushing my way through character summaries rather than reading a story. “Can we stop talking about what this person is LIKE and instead move the plot ahead just an INCH?,” I would think, my punctuation having returned to me. And I was left feeling depressed and upset after most of the stories, and I prefer not to feel that way unrelentingly even if the dismal stories are very nicely-written, so that was the final blow. I still liked the book, even though it sounds like I didn’t, but I’m glad I didn’t start with it or I might not have tried others.


(photo from Amazon.com)

(photo from Amazon.com)

Next I read Winner of the National Book Award. It was dark, like the short stories, but longer. Character descriptions felt worthwhile because we were going to be spending so much time with these people, and because the plot did keep inching forward. (Though I would sometimes have to put the book down because I felt worn out waiting for the next inch.)

This is the kind of book where you know upfront that something bad is going to happen: in this case, that the narrator’s twin sister is going to kill her husband (her own husband, not her twin sister’s) (the second twin sister’s, not the first twin sister’s) (okay, so the sisters are Dorcas and Abigail, and Dorcas is the narrator, and we know from the start that Abigail is going to end up killing Abigail’s husband, is THAT clear?). And then you jump back so you can work toward this Bad Thing That’s Going to Happen, feeling jumpy about it and wondering how/why it’s going to happen. And then it turns out there is another layer or two of things to anticipate.

It wasn’t cheery, but I liked it. I kept pausing to re-read particularly good parts, wishing it worked well to quote little pieces to someone who wasn’t reading the book. (It never does, which is why I dislike Meaningful Quotes.) (Unless they are meaningful to ME, in which case they’re marvelous.)

Thinking over it afterward, I find I still don’t feel like I understand the characters (despite all the description), so Amy Falls Down is still my favorite.


(photo from Amazon.com)

(photo from Amazon.com)

Now I am reading The Writing Class. I am only a little ways into it, but I see it comes before Amy Falls Down. You definitely don’t need to read this one first, and in fact so far I’d advise against it. The narrator (not the author, as the author keeps using her narrator to remind us) is trying a blog, and the way I feel about what she says about bloggers and blogging is very similar to the way the narrator (and perhaps also the author) feels about the things everyone says to her about fiction-writers and writing fiction. I’ve nevertheless already found several parts to wish I could read aloud to someone, though, so clearly I am ENJOYING it, it’s just that she happens to be hitting some of my personal irritations. [Edit: The part that was irritating me is over, and now I really love it.]


To sum up: I recommend trying the author. I recommend starting with Amy Falls Down or else with The Writing Class (The Writing Class is meant to be first). [Edited to add: I finished The Writing Class, and now would recommend reading that first, then Amy Falls Down. But Amy Falls Down stands alone, if you only want to read that one, and/or if you don’t like mysteries.] If you notice a self-conscious stiffness to this post, it’s because the narrator-who-is-not-the-author says she uses Google Alert on herself.

12 thoughts on “Jincy Willett

  1. Jenny

    I love her! I started with Jenny and the Jaws of Life, and I just LOVED it (but I do like short stories and I don’t care that much about plot, I just like people) and then I read The Writing Class and I thought it was just a literary novel and it turned into a real live mystery! With plot! Ha! I haven’t read any of the others, but clearly I should if I like her so much (why don’t I MARRY her, oh god my eight year old is killing me slowly.)

  2. Elise Seaton

    I read The Writing Class kind of by mistake. Well, in the way that pulling random books off the shelves at the library until you find one you might like could possibly end up being a mistake. Not that I feel like reading this book was a mistake. Wait, I need to start over. Maybe what I mean is that I read it by accident? Or, without much forethought and outside of my usual mode of behavior. ANYway, l what I’m trying to say is that I would not normally read a book like this, and I both loved and hated it. I hated the blogging references as you mentioned and also kind of hated the main character (but I think I was maybe supposed of kind of hate her?). And I really should NOT have been reading this late at night when I was living alone for the very first time, because it’s a touch creepy/home-invasiony/fret-inducingy. All of that being said, I still think of this book years later with a kind of fondness and a wondering if I should read it again.

    This comment is rambly in the extreme and is probably useless information, but I’m going to post it before I get into a self-debate about what comment would be useFUL information and who gets to decide and isn’t this what blogging is for ANYWAY? Thank you for reminding me of this book–I think I might like Amy Falls Down.

  3. Reading (and chickens)

    I am VERY EXCITED to try these books out. It is so rare to find a new author that I love. I just discovered Marian Keyes, the way Columbus discovered America, all there and fully formed and known by millions of people already. Anyway, I am putting these in my library queue.

  4. Gigi

    Adding some of these to my list. Only some because I CANNOT STAND short stories in any shape or form. I’ve even shunned Stephen King’s short stories – and generally, I never shun him. When I am reading a book, I want the whole enchilada and not some watered down version.

  5. allison

    What Gigi says is interesting, since I think of short stories as the very opposite of ‘watered down versions’ of novels. Literary short stories can feel a bit mushy, but genre short stories often pack a much bigger punch than their novel-length counterparts. Whenever I’m in a reading rut, I tend to go to science fiction or fantasy anthologies as a sort of palate-cleanser. And now I’ve devoted my comment to commenting on another comment instead of the post. I love Swistle book reviews. Will add her to my Goodreads Neverending Book Queue.

    1. Caro

      Re: the name Jincy…yes I think it’s very unique! I would more expect the character’s name to be Jincy and the author to be an Amy or something. Makes me think of Swistle’s “Name for Consideration” posts :)

  6. Lawyerish

    I’m adding Amy Falls Down to my to-read list! I love the way you review books. I really get a feel for the experience of reading these books, which is exactly what I want to know.

    I share your general feeling about short stories. Most short stories, in my experience, are extremely sad or extremely disturbing or unnervingly abstract or generally frustrating/depressing in some sort of way. Some are vivid enough that you never forget them (The Yellow Wallpaper, To Build a Fire), but on the whole they’re not my cup of tea. I also feel like a lot of contemporary writers try to stuff as much overly self-conscious quirkiness into every short story, and after reading one or two I feel like screaming, “ENOUGH ALREADY.”

  7. Carol

    I’m sorry, but the main point I got from this whole post is “who can possibly think a cat is too soft?”! I mean, isn’t that sort of the PURPOSE of a cat – being soft and pettable? That’s so funny, and so something a grandmother would say…

  8. Laura Diniwilk

    Adding to my reader, even though I’m not sure I have forgiven you yet for Geek Love (haha just kidding, my book club just read it and I remembered your non-recommendation recommendation).

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