This is a novel where the main character, Arabella Hicks, teaches a fiction writing class to adults. She has been doing this for a number of years while she is also trying to finish her own novel. It is evident at the beginning of the book that she is a rather burnt-out and slightly bitter instructor without a lot of empathy for her students. Her worries are more about herself. After a student asks a question she has the following response: "She has the discouraging feeling that this woman is going to be getting her into trouble for the next ten weeks. She can almost picture the evaluation forms that the students will fill out at the end of the semester. Was the instructor receptive to new ideas?" (pgs 11-12) This does indicate the author’s familiarity with teaching and the idea that anything you say in class may come back at you on a student evaluation. Arabella’s feelings toward her students change dramatically over the course of the book and there is even a romantic entanglement.
The main reason that this becomes such a unique class for Arabella is that at the same time she is teaching she is also dealing with her ailing mother. Her mother is in a nursing home and Arabella feels tremendous guilt over that. She visits her every week right after her class. Her relationship with her mother includes equal amounts frustration and love. Initially, they spend a lot of time arguing. It seems that they have such a history that even a small, seemingly innocuous comment can cause a lot of hurt. Some of the history that they are dealing with includes the aftermath of Arabella’s deceased father’s long-term illness. They begin to argue less and talk more when Arabella starts discussing the class she is teaching.
The book is set up in a unique way. There are chapters about Arabella’s life interspersed with chapters about the class she is teaching. In the chapters about the class you learn right along with the students. For example, the first class is about getting started and at the end of the chapter there is writing prompt to make a list of your obsessions. I thought this was a really neat writing prompt and so true that if you write about something you really know and have a passion for that will show. Arabella explains it this way, “Write about the thing that sets up a commotion in your mind, and you will find that words come flowing.” (pg 9) The writing prompts throughout the book are equally good. Also, included are chapters from a story that Arabella’s mother begins to write.
I enjoyed the book. Arabella’s teaching and her relations with her students deepened as she brought more of herself and her life into the class. I looked forward to each new class topic and the insight that the author gave. Arabella’s example of omniscient point-of-view in class four is very good. I found it harder to relate to Arabella and her interactions with her sick and elderly mother, but maybe that is because it is not a place I have been. This book does give some insight into dealing with nursing homes, guilt, and resolving issues with your mother. I think this book will appeal to anyone who likes to think about writing and the craft of writing, and people who are interested in end-of-life issues.
The Fiction Class by Susan Breen is currently on a blog book tour. Go to Blog Stop Book Tours to learn more about the author and what other bloggers have to say about The Fiction Class. This is the author’s debut novel and I hope to see more from her soon.