marginalia || The Fiction Class, by Susan Breen

This is my first read of the decade (yippee), and I’m quite glad that I liked it. When I read the info on The Fiction Class by Susan Breen, I got all giddy and excited. The author provided a copy for me to read (and drool over), along with a darling little bookmark–I went to the post office a few weeks ago and picked the package up, and when I found out that this baby was inside, I squealed. Really.

So. This is what the back of the book tells ya:

On paper, Arabella Hicks is more than qualified to teach a weekly fiction class on New York’s Upper West Side: She’s an author herself; she’s passionate about books; she’s even named after the heroine in a Georgette Heyer novel.

So why do her students seem so difficult? And why can’t she find an ending to the novel she has been working on for seven years? Arabella’s beginning to suspect that it’s because her mother, Vera Hicks, is driving her insane. After each class, she goes to see Vera in a nursing home outside the city. Every visit turns into an argument. Arabella can’t figure out how to make peace, until one day she discovers something surprising: Her mother wants to be a writer.

Slowly, cautiously, Arabella begins to teach her, and as the lessons progress along with her class, Arabella discovers that it is she who has a lot to learn about writing, and about love.

It was something familiar–I’ve been a Creative Writing major for five years now, and I’ve been in fiction workshops in three of those five years; I want to teach fiction some time after I (finally) graduate. Yes, this familiarity raised my expectations–will the fiction live up to the reality I’ve been witness to? Is there actual writing involved? Is there actual “fiction learning” involved? Will it give us a peek behind the poetics and politics of the strange notion that is a writing class? Still, even before I picked it up, I felt that it was a novel I would enjoy–hell, I wanted to enjoy it. And I did. Very much so.

  • I love Arabella Hicks. I love how she thinks. I love how uncertain she is of many things–of the people around her, of her relationships, of her own writing, her teaching, herself–and yet she’s still a strong character, somehow still in control of herself. (Does this make sense? It does, in Breen’s world.) I love how she imposes little stories to the people she meets (in a way that comes naturally)–and I love it when her stories are either way off-base, or dead-on–doesn’t this happen to all of us who speculate?
  • I like Vera Hicks. Just needs to be said. You gotta read her to believe her.
  • I love the fiction class, all the students, all their personalities, and how they grew as a class. I especially love the writing assignments sandwiched between the chapters, haha. Yes, I tried one or two.
  • I even grew fond of the tone and the language of the piece. It’s a bit simplistic, almost–I dunno–naive in its defiance of long-winded description of things we all know are true. De los Santos (on the cover) pins it down (borrowing from Coleridge): the right words in the proper order. The simplest words, no artifice. It grows on you.
  • This isn’t a how-to kind of book, okay? And–with college and workshops to thank for this observation–the fiction class in the book is a beginner’s class kind of thing, a very rudimentary run-through the craft. I suppose that’s one thing I liked. The writing student in me can relax a bit, somehow.
  • There’s a love story developed here. This is not really a spoiler, because I guess you can see this direction from a mile away. Anyhoo. Well. I got kilig (haha). How to translate kilig? Hm. I said Aw, and wrung my hands, and jumped around in my head, and said Aw many more times, and I pressed my face against the book and squealed, and then said Aw some more. Got it?
  • One marginalia says, “Oh my god, Arabella, why?” Arabella had a tendency to do things that puzzled me, but then I realized it was all a part of how uncertain she is. She always saved herself, she would inevitably find a way–isn’t this novel about redemption, after all?
  • I might have a teensy problem with the schmaltziness of the ending. That I felt it was summer-movie-ish. But it’s a teensy problem, after all, one that can be easily overlooked. Somehow, it suits the tone, the way the characters and the story were developed. Somehow, these characters deserved all that schmaltz.
  • And, you know what? While I was being my merry self in the bookstore (Fully Booked at MOA, if you’re curious) for my New Year (Book) Haul, I saw Love Walked In–the novel of Marisa de los Santos, whose rec/praise (what do you call that?) is on the cover. I wanted to buy it, because I figured, If an author likes The Fiction Class, then that author might write yay-good too, right? But at the time, I wanted to get books I’d been lusting over for the longest time, so I left Love Walked In on the shelves. Still. I’ve seen the reviews. If I see you again, you’re mine. Ah, reading begets reading (thanks, Hornby). :) [Also, this is a nudgenudge-winkwink kind of thing, haha.]

Thanks, Miss Breen. For heralding a brand new decade of reading, and reading good books. Yay 2010. :)

^ Oh, and this just in. The Fiction Class is available in National Bookstore, for all ye readers in this happy little archipelago we call home. And no, I don’t get a commission, haha, this is just for anyone who’d want to read this.

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19 comments

  1. This sounds like a great book! I am creative writing student as well so I think this is something I might enjoy. Thanks for the review.

    1. Hey Ash. :) I think it’s actually a great book for CW students–it’s a light read, surprisingly. I also like how Arabella Hicks verbalizes some of the facets of the genre, as well as the whole teaching thing. :)

  2. Interesting!

    Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks, Blooey. Happy New Year. :)

  3. I wonder if the two authors are friends and blurb each other??? : )

    And I imagine this would have a lot of interest to you as this is your life. Glad you started out the year with a good book.

    1. I actually know first-time authors who do that, haha. But it’s all good, if the praise is honest, methinks.

      And thank you! I’m glad too that this was a good book, haha. Here’s to another decade of reading. :)

  4. You make this book sound wonderful. I put it on my Goodreads TBR list.

    1. Wow, I think that’s one of the best comments I’ve ever received on this blog. :] Go ahead, and read–hope you like it. :]

  5. I just finished reading the book today, then I saw this. :)) I love, love, loved the book and how easy it was to read (I’m coming from a dry spell, so). Glad to know someone likes it too. Thanks for the review!

    1. Hi, Chris — Glad to know someone came out of the blue to tell me that she liked the book too, haha.

      And you read in Starbucks Katipunan! :p

  6. Hey, I found this the other day in Booksale, and I’m glad I read your review first, because due to my high TBR pile, I rarely buy books from authors I don’t know (It’s one of my resolutions for this year, haha), but this book is an exception due to your positive review, so I broke my own rule haha :)
    Am looking forward to reading it. :)

    1. Patay–pano kung nabasa mo, tapos ayaw mo pala, sobrang pangit niya, tas hindi mo nako rerespetuhin? Hahaha, ang labo. No, I really really hope you like this. Just reading it gave me a lot of hope re the new year. :)

  7. I think I would, it got my gf really excited too (she had some creative writing units back in college so she could relate, I think) Haha, yay for new authors discovered! :)

    1. Okay, haha, that’s good to know. Let’s compare notes when you finally read it? :] I hope you and your girlfriend like it! :D

  8. Thanks for this review! I have this book in my bookcase. I bought it awhile ago on sale at Chapters (Canadian chain bookstore) and I haven’t read it yet. But I give Creative Writing workshops which is why it intrigued me in the first place. I think I will pick it up soon…

    1. You’re welcome–and thank you for valuing my opinion. :] I do hope you like it, it’s an easy read, very enjoyable. :]

  9. Great review. I love this challenge because I am discovering lots of new books.

  10. […] Note: I found out about this book via Sasha’s review earlier this […]

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