The Fiction Class
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". . . a rocky beginning but is definitely worth continuing . . ."
The Fiction Class: A good teacher teaches. The best teacher learns.
Arabella Hicks has a romantic name, but she doesn’t have a romantic nature, unlike her mother Vera, a nursing home resident. Arabella teaches an adult writing class on Wednesday nights, and she has just begun another ten week class. One young man, also in her last class, wants to be a writer, but he says little.
Every Wednesday evening Arabella visits her mother, but she doesn’t enjoy the visits. She dreads them because she and her mother are always at odds. She didn’t go one time because of the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers. Her mother says Arabella will use any excuse not to visit.
Between her difficult relationship with her mother, her unfinished novel she’s been working on for seven years and going through the motions of yet another fiction writing class, Arabella’s life is bland, safe and predictable. One of her students, an older man named Chuck, is interested in her. She is intrigued, but she doesn’t trust him. He’s too slick, too wealthy. He doesn’t do the assignments and yet…
It seems everyone wants to write a book. Some of the more clichéd wannabe writers end up in Susan Breen’s The Fiction Class. Breen scrapes the surface in creating her characters, sifting through the top layers of the major players without getting too close or too deeply involved, much like her protagonist. Arabella is whiny, shallow and annoying through the first half of the book. Toward the middle of the story, she perks up and becomes more interesting, but she continues to whine. The most interesting character is Arabella’s mother, and it is through her that Breen drew me in and kept my attention.
The Fiction Class isn’t a bad book, but it’s not quite sure what it wants to be when it grows up. As a fiction class, it is interesting and provides a lot of helpful information. As a novel, it nearly gels. I disliked Arabella’s whining and posturing when speaking of writing as something great and profound. The writing matters, not publication and not payment. The whole premise of writing as high art is a little overdone. She looks down her nose at most of her students. It’s isn’t until they intrude on her that the writing and the characters really come alive. That is when the story gets better and so does the teaching. The problem is that it’s not certain Breen knows what it is she wants to say about writing or about the characters. The story feels muddled and narrow in the beginning but eventually shows promise.
The writing seems solid and often rings with a note of truth, but most of the characters are throw-aways. My favorite character of Arabella’s mother Vera kept me reading, although the students became more interesting as Arabella—and Breen—opened up and let them in. The Fiction Class begins with a rocky start, but it is definitely worth continuing for the sheer joy of getting to know the complex and delightful Vera Hicks and finding out what it takes to make a tale worth reading.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell