Jincy Willet’s Amy Falls Down

posted January 8, 2016

I love that part at the end of The Karate Kid where Danny LaRusso triumphs over his bully. It’s a plot point I can get behind. There’s plenty of that brand of karmic justice in Jincy Willett’s Amy Falls Down.

Since the protagonist is an undervalued author finally getting her due, the bullies in the novel are:

  1. heartless people in the publishing industry
  2. talentless but wildly successful writers
  3. ignorant readers.

It’s a novel for novelists, both the unknowns and the published still having to earn a living doing anything other than the thing they love most.

Wait a minute though-

What if Ralph Macchio had overcome his bully in the first 10 minutes of The Karate Kid, then spent the rest of the movie traveling to high schools across the country doing the same? What if the entire movie was bully after bully getting what’s coming to them?

I wouldn’t find that satisfying. I think I’d be left with the same grimy feeling I have after reading Amy Falls Down. I enjoyed it, and more than a few times felt indulgent or snobbish for doing so. The passive revenge motif was a deliciously rich meal I was served far too much of. It left me with pleasant sense memories, but also a bit of nausea.

At some point of relishing a bully’s torment I feel myself become the thing I hated about the jerk in the first place.

Only an asshole can enjoy watching the prolonged suffering of anyone, even a bully. Jincy Willett has written a compelling stream of seemingly deserved humiliations in Amy Falls Down.

Wait. Let me stop right there.

Compelling is one of the words the protagonist finds meaningless. Despite its faults I found the novel interesting, well-written, and endearing. Compelling is just so much more concise for me. It’s not riveting, or heartrendingly genius, but it was damn fine and definitely compelling in the Wikipedia sense of the word.

The novel’s contempt for bestsellers and social media savvy youngsters is harmless because it’s peppered with self-deprecation. Additionally, it seems that the prolonged display of contempt is really a beautifully written fit of mixed emotion, including jealousy. All the things that Amy says with tranquil venom are meaningless, she miraculously excels at. Willett paints Amy as a reluctant and bored genius, and everything she does in the course of the story turns to gold. There are no surprises. Amy is a sensation at everything, and she does everything with a sensational amount of “I don’t give a shit.”

I’m calling bullshit on that. To both Amy and her creator, you totally give a shit.

All writers give a shit. Even Salinger gave a shit. Why else did he seduce one of the few people he granted an interview? He wanted someone to listen, wanted to be heard and have an impact.

The high points of the story are sad in many ways, but all of the blubbering is superficial. Beneath the warm pudding skin is coldly cynical, yet lethargic, rage. The novel has lot of laughs, but without any real joy. I find myself wanting to give poor, suddenly successful Amy a big hug, a gesture that would require heroics I doubt I could muster, given that were I a character in Amy Falls Down I would be ridiculed for my ignorance or sentimentality, probably in a televised public forum. Does it matter that in the quiet and secret inner workings of Amy’s thoughts there were particles of unspoken admiration and respect? I guess that’s a completely subjective matter. Even if I identified most with Amy’s opinions, I felt more for the people she ignored and reduced to soundbites and stereotypes. At least they were taking part in life, instead of critiquing it from on high.

In the end, Willett is the worst bully of all. She skewered NPR so many times and so deftly in Amy Falls Down they had to declare it the book of the year. What else do you do when one of your children cries and says they hate you in public? Give them a lollipop.

I’m still glad I read it, because it reminded me why I started writing in the first place. I was a reader first. When a story I otherwise enjoyed seemed to go somewhere that the characters themselves wouldn’t take it, I had a sense of jumping in, of defending the story from its creator. I like the flawed people in Amy Gallup’s universe. They are the kind of people, were they in my own work, I’d find worth saving. Even Amy Gallup.

Amy Falls Down
If you’d like to buy the book, thisĀ image links you to my Amazon affiliate page. It’s a win-win for us both.

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