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The Fiction Class Paperback – February 26, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The collision of truth and fiction can result in romance or even redemption—or so say the writing exercises and life lessons that make up Breen's debut novel. For years, Arabella Hicks's love life, like her writing life, has felt flat and fruitless. Still, the 38-year-old copy editor and part-time teacher can summon neither the drive to date nor the wherewithal to finish her novel, Courting Disaster, now seven years in the rewriting. She's anxious about her mother, Vera, whom she visits in a nursing home every Wednesday after teaching her writing class. Worried about Vera's Parkinson's disease—and still grieving her father's death—Arabella discovers her personal fears seeping into classroom discussions of plot, point of view and dialogue. One student, the well-spoken, well-to-do Chuck, begins a relationship with Arabella and thus installs himself into the mother-daughter drama. Breen, a writing instructor, sometimes overplays her hand, but she does inject a dose of originality into an otherwise familiar setup. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

With a name that conjures up windswept romance novels, you would expect Arabella Hicks' life to be as enchanted as that of a happily-after-heroine. Instead she's a middle-aged writer, teaching a fiction writing class, flirting with one of her students, and taking care of her ailing mother, Vera. As the semester wears on, Arabella and her students slowly reveal more of their private lives to one another, while Vera admits that she has written a story. Unfortunately, she can't think of the perfect ending and wants Arabella and her students to help her. But how can Arabella when she can't even think of an ending for her own unfinished story? Peppered with literary references and Arabella's class assignments, Breen's novel is surprisingly touching. Although Arabella's students resemble stock characters—the wacky old lady, the beautiful girl hiding a terrible secret—this is a poignant yet amusing tale of family relationships rendered even more satisfying by Breen's dispensing of Strunk & White–like advice. Hatton, Hilary

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; 1st edition (February 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452289106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452289109
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #870,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Six important facts to know about Susan Breen:

1. Her first novel, THE FICTION CLASS, was published after years and years and years of effort. She's grateful to everyone who buys it, reviews it, or even thinks about it for a minute.

2. Her short stories have been published widely, most recently in the 2009 issue of BEST AMERICAN NON-REQUIRED READING and the Jan. 2011 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

3. She teaches fiction-writing and novel-writing at Gotham Writers' Workshop in Manhattan. She writes for THE WRITER and WRITER'S DIGEST magazine.

4. Susan's a workshop leader at the New York Pitch Conference.

5. She loves reading, which was part of what prompted her to write her novel. Some of her favorite authors are Charles Dickens, Richard Russo, Anne Tyler, Agatha Christie and PD James. But she very rarely reads a book she doesn't like.

6. She lives with her family in a suburb of New York and she's obsessed with her dogs, a cockapoo named Buster and a little old dog named Spencer.

Customer Reviews

The characters were likeable and realistic.
On the road
As a retired teacher, who taught students taking writing classes at university and community college extensions, I related to the book very well.
Lastly, the story shows how a family does their best to deal with illness and death and what we as readers can learn from them.
Rachel Carson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ratmammy VINE VOICE on March 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
March 26, 2008

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Here is a book that caught me by surprise. THE FICTION CLASS centered on a frustrated writer who taught a weekly writing class once a week. At the same time, she was also dealing with an aging parent. Arabelle and her mother never got along, and while Arabelle went to visit her every week, it was out of duty and guilt, not love. But because of her writing class, she forms a new bond with her mother and begins to learn more about the woman that raised her.

While Arabelle's relationship with her mother changes, so does her relationship with her students of her weekly fiction writing class. I marveled at the depth of each character, and how real Breen was able to make each character appear. The class goes from strangers to friends, and I enjoyed the parallel experiences that Arabelle had inside the classroom and in the home where her mother now resided. One student in particular strikes a nerve with Arabelle, and he's the one that in a way bridges her life in the classroom with the life she has with her dying mother.

A short and fast read, yet full of depth, THE FICTION CLASS may end up on my list of top books for 2008. The subject matter was what I was able to relate to, a woman coming to terms with the relationship she had with her mother, a relationship that was at best stormy and fragile.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Marlys M. Styne on March 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
Susan Breen's novel The Fiction Class (Plume, 2008) is a book that kept my attention from beginning to end. This book interweaves the challenges of writing and teaching writing with the challenges of life itself.

Arabella Hicks, named for the heroine of her mother's favorite romance novel, balances copy editing jobs and weekly visits to her argumentative, hostile mother in a nursing home with teaching fiction writing to a varied adult ed class.

Arabella is 38, single, isolated, unsure of herself, and still grieving for her father, who died after many depressing years in a wheelchair as the result of Multiple Schlerosis. Her mother has advanced Parkinson's Disease.

A further depressing fact is Arabella's inability to conclude the novel she's been working on for seven years, Courting Disaster.

Her Wednesdays form a pattern: teach the class, then visit her mother, Vera Hicks, bringing coveted fast food that may or may not be appreciated. Vera's condition and mood swings are impossible to predict, so Arabella approaches the visits with dread.

Like many writing teachers, Arabella seems to rely on her students' written work to get to know them. Ironically, when her talk about the class inspires Vera to write a story of her own, Arabella learns about her mother as well.

The newly-awakened Arabella learns, in a sense, to believe in miracles as she finally begins to understand her students and her mother and to open her heart to love. and as that happens, she can begin a new novel.

The connections between real life and fiction have always fascinated me. My experiences as a reader, writer, teacher and visitor of my own mother in a nursing home make The Fiction Class ring amazingly true to me. The book also supports my belief in the power of writing for all, something that Arabella and Vera and most of the writing class students seem to discover as well.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alexandra on March 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Fiction Class by Susan Breen is a poignant and touching tale a woman who teaches a fiction writing class who is struggling to complete her novel, caring for her ailing mother, and trying to find love.

Each chapter starts with Arabella's fiction writing class and features the lesson for that day, such as theme, voice, and pacing. Each class's writing theme is also a life theme in the novel. The students in Arabella's class are all interesting characters themselves and feature prominently in the novel; especially Chuck, who becomes Arabella's love interest.

The strongest theme in the novel is the mother/daughter relationship that has been a lifelong source of pain between Arabella and her mother, Vera. The two have had a tortured and difficult relationship since Arabella was a child. Through the course of the book, the two women gain insight and understanding into each other's motivations and thoughts through the treasured acts of reading and writing.

Not only is The Fiction Class a good read but it is also a good course in writing instruction for the budding fiction writer wannabe. Breen puts each of Arabella's writing assignments on a separate page before each chapter. I know that I will be doing the exercises to hone my writing skills!

The blurb on the back cover of this novel summarizes this book perfectly, it says: "A heartwarming story for anyone who loves books, or has a difficult mother. And, let's face it, that's practically everybody...."
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Julie Hedlund on September 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
The most interesting parts of this book were the lessons the main character, Arabella, gave to her class on fiction writing. Having said that, give me Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" or Stephen King's "On Writing" any day of the week if I want to learn more about the craft of writing. Of all the characters in the book, the only ones I really liked were Arabella and her mother. Likewise, the story of the two of them working out their relationship as she approaches death in a nursing home was engaging. I didn't care about any of of the other characters (the students in her fiction class), nor did their attitudes, backgrounds and reasons for coming together in this fiction class ring true. None of the characters were well drawn enough to pull me in and want to know more about them. They were there to create bulk for the book and to make it seem as if there were more to the story than there really was. Ditto on the "love interest." I was never given a reason to believe that these two people would come together, nor did I see any reason why they would stay together. The whole romance seemed contrived, as if the author felt a book solely about a daughter and her dying mother wouldn't sell well. The book was entertaining enough as a quick read, but it's not a keeper.
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