"The Writing Circle" by Corinne Demas is the story of six writers in a writing group whose lives become intertwined in a story of jealousy, loyalty and betrayal. This story describes the lives of six writers -- Gillian, Bernard, Virginia, Chris, Adam and Nancy -- who come together in a New England writing group, called the Leopardi circle, to critique and analyze one another's work. The group consists of varying skill levels. Gillian is a poet who is on the verge of winning a Pulitzer. Chris is a highly popular fiction writer, whom many in the group disdain for his success and lack of "literary merit." Bernard writes biographies of classical musicians. Virginia writes literary fiction, and Adam has yet to publish. Nancy is the editor of a medical magazine who is working on her first novel. The relationships among the group are varied and complex, and their families also play a role in the story development. For example, Virginia and Bernard were once married and they have two children, one of whom is Rachel, a teacher at the academy Gillian's step-son, Paul attends. Bernard is now married to Aimee, a woman half his age. Virginia is married to Joe. Chris is divorced with two boys. Adam is dating Kim, a young co-ed, and Nancy is living with Oates. The sheer number of characters and the roles they play and the eccentric lives they lead are a bit confusing!
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The story begins with Nancy joining the writing group. Both Nancy and Gillian immediately stand out as protagonists in the story. Gillian is highly critical of Nancy and her work, while others come to Nancy's defense. Nancy's first novel is based on her father, a doctor turned educator after a case he was working resulted in the death of a child. Nancy's feelings for her father are complicated, but these are never fully explained in the book. She reveres and respects him, but there is an undercurrent of something deeper between them that is never disclosed. The purpose of Nancy's novel is to justify her father's decision -- to show him as a man who grew out of tragedy. Gillian's criticism of the book is harsh. She suggests Nancy rewrite the story to portray the doctor as a guilty man who could not live with the ramifications of his mistake. Nancy is not swayed by Gillian's advice.
Gillian's character is further revealed when she travels to her writing refuge on the cape and receives a call from Adam, the youngest member of the group. Gillian left a folder of her work at the previous meeting of the writer's group and Adam offers to bring it to her. In truth, Adam is infatuated with Gillian. The two sleep together that night. Adam's world is rocked. Gillian's, not so much. This becomes evident when later in the novel, Gillian hosts a Christmas party at her home, which Adam and his girlfriend, Kim, attend, along with other members of the writing group. While Gillian's high-school-aged step-son, Paul, becomes infatuated with Kim, Adam's infatuation with Gillian is piqued, especially when she whispers, "The next time I am at the cape, you can come for dinner again." From these interactions, it quickly becomes clear that Gillian is using Adam, but to what end is never disclosed.
The story is divided into chapters based on the point of view of the different characters in the story. It is slow reading until about page 200 when Gillian's book of poems is released and the group travels to New York to support Gillian's book signing and attend the after party. At the book signing, Gillian's agent reveals that Gillian has published a novel, using a pseudonym. Thumbing through the book, Nancy realizes that the story is hers, the novel she has now completed but failed to find a buyer. The first chapter is nearly word-for-word from Nancy's original manuscript, but the story takes a twist, becoming instead the story Gillian suggested to Nancy months ago during Nancy's initial meeting with the group.
Nancy is angry, storms out of the book signing and later confronts Gillian at the after party. The reasons for Nancy's anger soon become known to other members of the writing circle, some of whom -- Virginia and Chris, specifically -- vow to take action. Bernard reveals to Virginia that Gillian, with whom he also had a brief affair, had a similar charge of plagiarism while earning a graduate degree in Fine Arts from a nearby university. The charge was never proven, although Gillian had allegedly copied a line from the poem of an exchange student and included the poem in her thesis collection.
Nancy along with Adam, who now feels spurned and wants revenge against Gillian, travel to the college to investigate. After hours of searching, they find the original poem, written by the exchange student, in an old issue of the college's literary magazine. The lines from the poem are similar to Gillian's poem, but not exact. In reality -- and this is the crux of the ethical dilemma of the story -- Gillian did not technically plagiarize either the poem or the novel, as Nancy comes to realize. Instead, she has an incredible memory, and with both the poem and the story, she took key words from and made them her own. The end products are very different from the originals, which does not support a charge of plagiarism. Still, it is enough evidence that Adam takes the material to Chris, who persuades a member of the Pulitzer committee to remove Gillian's name from consideration for the prize.
To further complicate the ethical dilemma, the author also flashes back to Gillian's college days when the issue with the poem arose. The authors reveals that Gillian had a sexual liaison with the professor who accused her of plagiarism. This seems to be in payment for keeping the accusation quiet and allowing the thesis to be accepted. This detail is only revealed to the reader, not to or through the other members of the writing group.
Gillian is obviously dismayed by the news that she is no longer in contention for the Pulitzer. Her husband, a doctor, is worried about her, and though Gillian wants to return to the cape, he urges her to wait until the next morning, after his shift at the hospital, so that he can accompany her. He encourages Paul to keep an eye on Gillian while he is away for the night. In the meantime, Kim makes a trip to Gillian's home to confront her over her relationship with Adam. Paul answers the door and explains that Adam is not there. After a brief conversation, Kim leaves out a sliding door from Paul's bedroom, walking in the darkness on the long driveway to the road. As Kim begins her walk down the hill, Paul notices that Gillian's truck is pulling out of the garage with the lights off. Gillian is planning to leave unnoticed for the Cape. As she begins driving down the drive with no lights, Paul realizes that she will not see Kim and Kim may not hear Gillian's truck. He dashes off into the darkness.
Gillian realizes that she hit something in the driveway but hopes it is a deer or another animal. She does not slow down or stop until she arrives at her house at the cape. She knows the "animal" she thought she hit is Paul. The story ends with Gillian contemplating the consequences of her actions and receiving a call that Paul is dead. Gillian's reaction to the death is an eerie reminder of Nancy's original story about her father.
Best part of story, including ending:
The novel was slow reading until the end and the characters were almost too many to keep straight. Once Gillian's novel was released, however, the story definitely picked up the pace and kept me engaged to the end.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene occurred at the book signing, when it is revealed that Gillian has at least stolen and at worst plagiarized Nancy's idea and published it. It is actually a bit unbelievable that Gillian could complete a novel that quickly, but that detail adds insult to injury to Nancy who has labored over the manuscript for many years.
Opinion about the main character:
Gillian is not a likable character. She is manipulative and arrogant. Nancy is more likable but still hard to grasp as a character. I had a hard time picturing her and discerning her age and season of life. The remainder of the characters are both quirky and eccentric, and I would have benefitted from better physical descriptions. For example, I had not pictured Bernard with long gray hair and a gray beard, and this aspect of his physical appearance did not appear until several hundred pages into the book.