Friday, March 21, 2008

Life and Fiction Collide: A Book Review

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.

Postscript, 3/22: Author Susan Breen has an interesting web site. Visit to find out more about her, and enter her writing exercise contest to win a free copy of The Fiction Class.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne


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Susan Breen said...

Thank you so much for posting such a lovely review of my book. I too believe strongly in the "power of writing for all." Your readers might be interested to know that I am running a writing exercise competition on my web site, It's free! But the winner receives an autographed copy of my book. Thanks again for your review. All best, Susan Breen

seniorwriter said...

Thank you, Susan. It's nice to hear from an author who appreciates a review. While I'm much older, I found Arabella almost a kindred spirit in many ways. Good work! I'll check out your web site.