The Rejected Writers’ Book Club

Suzanne Kelman

Lake Union Publishing


I’d always had this kind of idyllic 1950s vision of going on a road trip. I had conjured up images of good-looking middle-aged women in lipstick and headscarves laughing and joking along an open highway. A bit like Thelma & Louise, without the attempted rape, killing and suicide leap. However, the notion of the suicide leap seemed almost appealing now.

      from  The Rejected Writers’ Book Club


The literary equivalent of cotton candy

It was the title that got me, surely an example of inspired marketing since there are quite a few rejected writers around. Most, like me, are probably attracted to anything to do with rejected writers—Rejected Writers’ Success Stories, Rejected Writers’ Suicide Notes, Rejected Writers’ breakfast cereal…

The story: Janet Johnson, librarian in a small Puget Sound community, has been invited to the Rejected Writers’ Book Club, a group of older women whose novels, poetry and memoirs have all been rejected. They take pride in their rejection letters, collecting and pasting them into a scrapbook; for example,

Dear Mrs. Newberry, Thank you for sending us your manuscript, Love in the Forest, but at the moment we are only looking for manuscripts that have a plot, a setting, interesting characters, understandable dialogue, a conflict, a main character, and…a point. As your manuscript meets none of the criteria, we will have to pass on this project.

And then disaster strikes: a member is notified that her manuscript has been accepted by a San Francisco publisher. This could mean the end of the book club. She decides to refuse the publishing offer (This is how we know we are reading a work of fiction,) and when the publisher doesn’t respond to her telephone calls, the group decides to drive to San Francisco and demand a letter of rejection for their scrapbook.

Meanwhile, Janet’s daughter Stacey who lives in the bay area announces she is pregnant, and asks Janet to come down. While thrilled at the news that she’s to become a grandmother, Janet is wary; Stacey is a tightly wired perfectionist, and things have not gone well in the past when she and her husband Martin stayed with their daughter and son-in-law.

“While she had been at work, Martin and I had decided to surprise her by filling her garden with beautiful pink, yellow, and purple spring plants to soften all the depressive straight lines of her yard. On returning home, she had shrieked, dropped her shopping, and burst into tears. Apparently without realizing it, we had ‘unfenged her shui.’”

Janet and the book club decide to drive down to San Francisco together, and this is primarily an account of their road trip, a story that has all the plausibility of a James Bond novel without the thrills, sex, danger and…a point. But it may be just right for an afternoon’s reading at the beach: light, funny, at times screwball wacky, the literary equivalent of cotton candy.


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (June 15-July 14, 2016.) Reprinted with permission.