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The Fiction Class by Susan Breen

The Fiction Class (2008)

by Susan Breen

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The book told a nice story, but I feel like my enjoyment hung mostly on the mother's short story, which was woven between chapters. The main plot was a little flat and typical, and reminded me of a handful of other books. I never felt like I was close to the main character, Arabella, nor did I ever fully understand her thoughts, actions, and motives. In teaching her fiction workshop, she made rash judgments on her students based on appearances and made up stereotypical back stories (which I feel like a writer would push her imagination to the limit, not label everyone a stereotype). Over the course of the semester, Arabella realized that these students were not what she expected, yet I don't feel like she actually learned her lesson. Same with writing her own novel, which I think was pushed much too far into the background. In deciding to scrap it, does the reader know that she is determined enough to try again? There are allusions to a new start, but nothing concrete enough to sell me.

The saving grace, as I mentioned, was her mother's own short story, which she began writing while in a nursing home. She finally shows her daughter, and asks Arabella to help with an ending. This mother-daughter relationship, while still keeping the reader at arm's length, was the most believable and compelling aspect of the book. Arabella and her mother have always been at odds with each other, yet Arabella visits every week out of obligation, until a real understanding begins to develop through writing.

I think the reason I keep saying this book felt distant and unemotional was the style in which it was written. The language, while modern, was very formal, and contractions weren't used very often, so I read it in a stilted voice. I think this style probably kept me hung up on the words themselves, instead of what they were saying. ( )
  howifeelaboutbooks | Nov 4, 2015 |
This book was recommended to my by my high school English teacher who happens to be my daughter's English teacher. It was the perfect book - short, sweet and interesting! Thanks, Mary!!

The premise is a NYC adult ed Fiction class - the kind that would be offered in the late afternoon in various locations across the city. It is a haven for would-be-writers and the teacher, Arabella, understands them - because she is one herself. Her novel is waiting for the final chapter and has been for the last 7 years! Arabella is a nice enough woman, but her mother is quite the lady. She is in the nursing home with Parkinsens Disease and still running Arabella's life. And to be honest - Arabella could probably use some help.

And then there is the class. Each chapter in the book is a new writing assignment - and the chapter closes with a copy of the assignment. As Arabella presents plot and voice - the characters in her class seem to demonstrate with their lives.

The most poignant part of this books though, is Arabella and Vera (her mom's) relationship. Each Wednesday after class Arabella travels to the nursing home to be with her mom. And as she relates stories of her class and the assignments her mom begins to write. Her story Fortune works miracles between the two.

I really enjoyed this book - and it certainly made me want to write!!! ( )
  kebets | Nov 1, 2014 |
Based on a description, I thought I'd like this book. However, at 50+ pages in, I've decided that life is too short to keep on reading a book that is doing nothing for me. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be caring about these characters and their quirks, but I don't. Sorry. ( )
  y2pk | Oct 1, 2013 |
What I loved most about this book was that all along the way I'd have these little moments where Ms. Breen revealed just the right information at the right time that illuminated another facet of Arabella's relationship with her mother. As I got to know Arabella, I understood better the choices she makes and also the ways in which she comes to terms with her mother and the history they shared. This novel has funny moments and there is a clever twist on the "receipe-novel" genre but instead of recipes, each chapter ends with a writing assignment for all us aspiring writers out here. ( )
1 vote tjsjohanna | May 4, 2013 |
I needed something to read on the train, and this was literally the only thing I could find in Smiths on Marylebone Station that looked bearable. As it was, it was only just. The concept of the writing class was interesting, and the author gets bonus points for admiration of Georgette Heyer but, to be unkind, it reads rather like a writing exercise itself: the characters are shallow, and the plot is nothing new. ( )
1 vote phoebesmum | Aug 13, 2011 |
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For my parents, Barbara and Bob Zelony
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You've known there was something special about you for a long time, haven't you?
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Book description
Arabella Hicks helps her students focus on their writing, and she encourages them to nurture the distinctive voice that emerges on paper as a result of that focus. For some of them, it's the first time any of them have ever had their written work taken seriously. Unfortunately, it's becoming harder for Arabella to practice what she preaches. She's been writing the same novel for seven years, and lately her time in front of the computer has involved more games of Spider Solitaire than she'd like to admit. Also, she's distracted. Her mother, ailing and living in a nearby nursing home, still has enough energy to leave Arabella feeling angry and depleted each time she visits. A narrative that teaches us as much about the craft of writing fiction as it does the power of memory, love, and compassion. -us.penguingroup.com
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0452289106, Paperback)

Read Susan Breen's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A witty, honest, and hugely entertaining story for anyone who loves books, or has a difficult mother. And, let’s face it, that’s practically everybody . . .

On paper, Arabella Hicks seems more than qualified to teach her fiction class on the Upper West Side: she’s a writer herself; she’s passionate about books; she’s even named after the heroine in a Georgette Heyer novel.

On the other hand, she’s thirty-eight, single, and has been writing the same book for the last seven years. And she has been distracted recently: on the same day that Arabella teaches her class she also visits her mother in a nursing home outside the city. And every time they argue. Arabella wants the fighting to stop, but, as her mother puts it, “Just because we’re family, doesn’t mean we have to like each other.” When her class takes a surprising turn and her lessons start to spill over into her weekly visits, she suddenly finds she might be holding the key to her mother’s love and, dare she say it, her own inspiration. After all, as a lifelong lover of books, she knows the power of a good story.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:42 -0400)

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Despite being named after a Georgette Heyer heroine, would-be novelist Arabellas life is not what it might be. Thirty-six, twice engaged but still single, none of the New Yorkers on her Creative Writing course show any signs of novel-writing promise but then, to be frank, neither does she. However, hope, and love, may be closer than she had realised and, who knows, maybe even inspiration.… (more)

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