Recent Reads: “The Writing Circle” by Corinne Demas

When it comes to buying books by authors I’ve never heard of before, my choices can sometimes be spontaneous. Or, in the case of Corinne Demas’ “The Writing Circle,” inspired by coincidence. I’d been part of a local writer’s group for a couple years when Demas’ novel caught my eye at a bookstore. My reaction was immediate: “Hey, I’m in a writing circle! So maybe I should read this book.” Of course, I read the critical praise as well as the summary on the inside cover before making my purchase, so I knew well in advance that this book was more than just a discussing about editing and literature.

“The Writing Circle” explores the interconnected lives of the members of The Leopardi Circle, based somewhere in Massachusetts. The members range in age, personality, and writing skill and specialty (a poet, a successful thriller writer, a biographer, a historian, and two aspiring novelists). The reader gets a first glimpse into the Circle when Nancy joins the group to share a novel-in-progress that’s deeply personal for her. From there, the story builds momentum quietly, almost as if it sneaks up on the reader, as the writers of the Leopardi Circle share their writings, their lives, and (in some cases) even more with one another. And what begins as a quest to improve one’s storytelling and improve the chances of publication turns into an intricate tale of relationships, betrayal, and loyalty – and a lesson of how buried secrets always find a way to be discovered.

One important element of “The Writing Circle” is its narration style. Each chapter is dedicated to the point of view from one member of the Leopardi Circle, or a family member of one of the members. It’s sort of like the narrative technique in “A Game of Thrones,” where the reader gets different perspectives on events throughout the book. This way, the reader learns about each writer’s eccentricities, struggles, and redeeming qualities. The amount of detail that Demas pours into each character, as well as her ability to ensure each character has a distinct personality, makes them seem real and the dynamics of The Leopardi Circle like that of a family: dysfunctional at times, yet always supportive.

As much as the narrative style of “The Writing Circle” is a strength, it’s also a weakness. As the story winds down, some of The Leopardi Circle members don’t have an opportunity to appear one last time. A couple writers are last heard from with 40 or 50 pages before the final chapter. I realized this as soon as I closed the book for the last time, and I found myself thinking, “But what about this person? What happened to him? How would she have reacted to this?” Thus, I feel as though my experience with “The Writing Circle” was incomplete; not all of the loose ends were tied adequately, in my opinion – and I doubt it was done intentionally to leave room for a sequel – and that frustrated me.

I do think that other readers will like “The Writing Circle.” It’s smoothly written and the characters are drawn to impeccable believability. It also provides great insight on what it’s like to be in a writing group. Those aspects of “The Writing Circle” met my satisfaction. I’d probably give this book a higher rating had Demas found a cleaner way to end each member’s involvement in the primary plot. However, I’m glad I took coincidence’s hand and read “The Writing Circle.” It brought back memories of my own experiences and helped me appreciate the initial purpose of a writing group: to help other writers improve their craft.

Rating: 3/5

You can find “The Writing Circle” online or at any local bookseller.  Click here to learn more about “The Writing Circle.”