Thinking about a group of writers sitting around discussing their projects might not seem like an interesting premise for a novel, but the members of the Leopardi Circle detailed in Corrine Demas’ The Writing Circle are anything but static and dry. The book follows the circle’s newest recruit, Nancy, as she struggles to fathom sharing her latest novel with a group of distinguished writers. While Nancy might be the focus of the book, the five other members of the circle have their own narratives as well, each taking a turn to voice their own chapter with the current goings-on of their lives. Among them is Bernard, Nancy’s friend, who writes biographies, and Virginia, his ex-wife who remains on amicable terms with Bernard. Then there’s Chris, a divorced mystery writer in dispute with his ex-wife over his children and Adam, the youngest and most inexperienced of the group. However one of the most successful and brazen of the Leopardi Circle, is Gillian, a cut throat poet who Nancy is warned to watch out for. Through her meetings and interactions with the various members of the Leopardi circle, Nancy trudges on, broadening the character she’s built around the memory of her father. Centering this charming, character driven mosaic narrative.
One of the hardest things I imagine an author could do, is write about writing, but Demas does it beautifully and with a wide variety of characters at different stages of their lives and at different points of their career. There’s different archetypes to be found in each character, like Virginia as the devoted mother, Gillian as the pretentious and manipulative career woman, and Adam as the boy who hasn’t quite grown up. Reading each character through their different voices was a joy because each voice was clear and distinct, there was no confusion about what character was speaking and each even seemed to have its own driving force. Many of the characters crossed paths through their children or a friend and in this way it made the narrative complex and interesting. It was in these moments that I didn’t want to put the book down and found myself begrudging the fact that I had to go to sleep.
Because of the nature of this book I find it hard to comment on particular events without giving away the entire plot. However Demas’ way of entwining the literary conversation with small talk at the meetings was brilliant. I don’t think I have ever read a more stimulating conversation on “who versus whom” in a grammatical context. While the craft talk was certainly not the centerpiece of the novel, it was enjoyable because of the characters.
The way the characters approached their work and their lives and seeing how each of them led a writing life was clever and the friendships formed within the circle added to the warmth and depth. Though I thought the novel took a couple chapters to hit its stride, it was a fascinating journey. I believe a large portion of that was because of the different perspectives taken on by each character, particularly as the end of the book approached.
I would recommend this book to anyone who was curious about writing or writer’s workshops and enjoys insightful human stories with different perspectives. This is one of my favorites books this year and I highly recommend picking it up on your next trip to the bookstore. The Writing Circle doesn’t disappoint and leaves you thinking to the very end.
Final Grade: A+