The Writing Retreat New And Latest Book Review

Book Review 

The Writing Retreat could have been a decent little thriller, and beneath the overwhelming amount of baggage packed into the 400 or so pages that this book runs into, there’s a glimmer of a better book. Between the suspense-filled characters, laborious pacing and generous helpings of ridiculously unconvincing, it’s a major letdown, which is a real shame given what it’s working with.

  The premise of Julia Bartz’s debut novel is enough to make you hit the buy button right away, but trust me, you might want to refrain from doing so. In its simplest form, five women are selected for a month of writing, where they are sent to a remote estate run by a famous feminist writer named Rosa Vallo.

  Among the invitees is Alex, a struggling novelist with writer’s block and serious core issues with his old best friend, Wren. As fate would have it, Wren is chosen to be a part of this shelter and the pair are forced to work together in the same area. As they settle in and learn the rules of this little game, Alex soon realizes that the other ladies may have murderous intent running through their veins. Can he survive?

  As mentioned above, this is a slow book and takes a good 200 pages or so before anything significant happens other than the ladies showing up during the retreat. However, The Writing Retreat suffers from numerous missteps not only logically with the story, but also with its characters and dialogue.

  There’s a strange urge here to keep coming back to graphic depictions of sex between women, which doesn’t really work, and the worst happens during a “drug trip.” I use these words very loosely because anyone who has taken hallucinogens or has experience with drugs will find themselves rolling their eyes at clichéd images that are far from reality.

  Speaking of clichés, this book throws in numerous tropes and subversions throughout its narrative, with the ending set up early in the book, even in the first few chapters. I appreciate that these things can happen as a debut novel, but it’s never a good sign to hold off on the ending of your book and what’s going to happen with your characters.

  Unfortunately, there are problems beyond the conventions of the story. It is already more evident in the prose style. It takes a talented writer to get this meta, satirical humor right, and as a result, Writing Retreat almost becomes a parody of itself.

  Halfway through the book, Rosa says her writers are “halfway there now” and hopes those who are there won’t be too bored. Once again, Rosa directs her writers (especially Wren) to point out how we need to empathize with the main character and lists how to do that, including setting her up to be down and out rather than high-flying and rich. But again, the irony is that Julia Bartz, despite following this protocol, doesn’t do a particularly good job of making her characters likable.

  Alex and Wren’s characters are honestly not that likable. Wren in particular comes across as narcissistic, greedy and opportunistic until late in the game, where he changes a bit. As for Alex, he spends most of his time neglecting Wren, acting pathetic, needy, weak, and confused. To be fair, he does become more of a “hero” towards the end of the story, but the journey there seems contrived.

  All that said, not to mention the many excerpts from Alex’s makeshift novel, as if even Julia Bartz is desperate to break away from her own story, The Writing Retreat is a colossal misstep. Which is a shame, because there’s definitely potential here. With more editing, an updated plot, and more likeable characters, this could have been a great read. Unfortunately, it is not.

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