Daily Hampshire Gazette
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book Bag: Works of local and regional interest
by Suzanne Wilson

Book Bag features works of area writers and books of regional interest. Most of these titles are available at local bookstores or through online retailers.

The Writing Circle
By Corinne Demas
Voice/Hyperion

I suspect that not every writing circle can boast a cast of characters as interesting as the one Corinne Demas has assembled in her new novel, but that's the appeal of fiction. The circle, whose members meet weekly to critique their works in progress, even have a name - the Leopardi Circle, named after an Italian poet.

"Leopardi Circle?" asks Nancy, an introverted medical writer and aspiring novelist we meet on the opening pages, who has been invited to attend a meeting.

"It's what we call ourselves, strictly among ourselves, of course," says Bernard."

Bernard, pompous but lovable, is a long-standing member of the circle. We also meet Gillian, a condescending world-famous poet; Chris, a thriller writer with a complicated personal life; Virginia, a historian who is also Bernard's ex-wife; and Adam, the wealthy owner of a shoe company and a would-be novelist who tends to write very erudite fiction.

At the first meeting she attends at Bernard's invitation, Nancy realizes she's there essentially to audition. If everyone likes her, she'll be asked to join on a permanent basis.

"She wished now that she had taken a glass of wine," Demas writes, describing Nancy's awkward first moments as an invited guest. "The warmth of the tea was comforting in her hands, but seeing Gillian in the chair across from her, her long fingers banding the stem of her wine glass made Nancy feel like a kid in comparison, clutching her clunky mug."

Nancy passes muster. From that point on, Demas explores the complexities of the relationships within the group.

Karen Joy Fowler, author of "The Jane Austen Book Club," writes that "through its artful use of multiple voices, its memorable characters and elegant prose, The Writing Circle weaves a web that tightens slowly around you as you read until you find you simply can't put it down. This is a wonderful book, tense, engaging and highly recommended."

Corinne Demas, who has been part of several writing circles, is a professor of English at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. She is the author of a memoir, "Eleven Stories High: Growing up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968," two collections of short stories, a collection of poems; and numerous books for children. She lives in Amherst.