Lately I’ve been reading new novels in order to relax and reconnect with 21st century culture.
The book that will go on my Best Books Sidebar is Jincy Willett’s Amy Falls Down.
If you haven’t heard of Willett, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard of Willett. And then about a year ago I read a review of Amy Falls Down, and it was supposed to be very funny. I recently picked up the paperback.
This gentle satire of the publishing industry made me laugh aloud.
Amy, a 62-year-old writer, is carrying a Norfolk pine to her raised garden when she sprains her ankle, falls down, and hits her head on a birdbath. It takes her an hour to crawl inside, because she doesn’t want to call to her neighbors. The next thing she knows, the local writer who was scheduled to interview her for a newspaper is pulling out of the driveway, and Amy has no memory of their meeting. The bizarre interview attracts national attention. Suddenly Amy is famous, though she hasn’t published a book in 30 years.
Willett’s prose is graceful, witty, and sharp, but I laugh hardest because of Amy’s attitudes. She doesn’t go to doctors: she wants death to surprise her. It is only with reluctance, after googling “concussion,” that she finally goes to the emergency room.
Amy is also fat, and has no real problem with this.
Amy had enjoyed good health throughout her life without effort, eating and drinking as she pleased, exercising only when there was a point to it. She was in terrible shape now, overweight and sedentary, but still she rarely even got a cold. Living like a hermit protected her from germs. Until today she had never injured herself significantly, while all around her slim, gusto-grabbing women keeled over dead during marathons, fainted from salt-deprivation in the checkout lines of Jimbo’s, crippled themselves with shin splints, got gnawed on by mountain lions and medavaced from wilderness areas, and generally drove up health insurance rates for the chain-smoking obese who had the good sense to stay still. When they weren’t endangering themselves, these medically pious types got whole-body scans and BMI reports and knew their cholesterol and blood pressure numbers by heart. How they must love their doctor visits!
Her old agent gets in touch with her, sets up several speaking engagements and interviews, and before you know it, she is charming audiences with her outspokenness.
She keeps a blog called Go Away, which is ignored until her interviews go viral.
At a “Whither Publishing” panel discussion, which her agent bullies her into attending, a Norman Mailer-like writer named Davy Goonan charms the audience by “inveighing against tweets, apps, blogs, book trailers, book launches, and the very notion that writing and marketing should be accomplished by the same person.” Then he takes it too far. The hilarious Q&A session afterwards is done by tweets, and C-Span decides to show all the tweets at the bottom of the screen. Amy finds it hilarious when she sees the video:
Under a snoozing Davy Goonan, electronic ticker-tape read Magugah OOH MY OOH MY OOH MY>>>TEEN SEX CHAT VIDS. As Jenny Marzen gamely attempted to address an incoherent tweet about the need for a “Very Young Adult Niche,” all too coherent messages crawled beneath her earnest, animated face, HORNDOGGIE1998 HEY HOTTIE MCHOOTIE CHECK OUT MY #GARDEN WEASEL…
Amy isn’t a caricature: she has had her share of sadness. Her gay husband, Max, her best friend, died 30 years ago of AIDS. At her writers’ workshop, she also survived trauma after her most talented student took out a gun and shot two of the students. (Willett does make this funny, though.) She keeps her distance from people, astonished that her former workshop students are so fond of her. (But no wonder they’ve bonded.) She prefers teaching online.
The novel is in the tradition of ther satires about writers, among them Anthony Burgess’s riotous Enderby quartet and Howard Jacobson’s hysterically funny novel, Zoo Time. I’m not quite sure I altogether approve of Amy’s growth into a more likable person–I liked her acerbity–but it is one of my favorite books of the year. I can’t think of many women’s novels about writers: is this male turf? Let me know.
Is this a future Virago? Maybe.