Arabelle Hicks is a frustrated writer who teaches a weekly fiction writing class in New York. She’s never gotten along with her mother, who is now lives in a nursing home. As the dutiful daughter, Arabelle visits her mother once a week, dreading it every single time. What drives her to go is simple: guilt. However, when Arabelle mentions to her mother that she is teaching a class in fiction writing, to Arabelle’s surprise her mother takes interest. Arabelle now makes it a point to discuss with her mother the lessons she teaches each week and the homework that her students are to complete for the following class meeting. It is through these discussions that Arabelle and her mother find common ground. The once-antagonistic relationship takes a turn, and Arabelle begins to look forward to seeing her mother.
While her relationship with her mother changes, Arabelle also notes a change in her relationships with her students: they are becoming more than just students to her. As the weeks progress, the class bonds to the point of becoming friends. Through Arabelle’s observations as they do their homework assignments and participate in class, the reader gets to know each student’s personalities and quirks. One student is known as the cross-dresser. Another student is known to be the emotional one. One student stands out, a rather disruptive older student who eventually becomes a potential love interest for Arabelle, a man who she finds out later is more than just an indifferent student and becomes someone she can lean on when things with her mother become rough.
The Fiction Class starts out slow, but this shouldn’t deter the reader. An intriguing aspect is the pieces of a book interspersed with the actual action of the story. It isn’t until almost the end of The Fiction Class that the author of this book is revealed. This story within the main story parallels the life of Arabelle’s mother, and the reader is led to believe that the author is Arabelle herself.
Breen weaves the story of Arabelle and her mother's relationship with the blossoming connection she has with her students, with both sets of relationships changing as the class progresses. The author shows the change and growth between two women who have never gotten along, with Arabelle seeking the resolution of a difficult relationship with her mother before it’s too late. I related completely to the main characters, who reminded me of my own relationship journey with my mother, a relationship that resembles Arabelle's.
The Fiction Class is a short and fast read, but it gets its point across. The story is beautifully written, but what really stands out are the main characters. Breen has created characters who are flawed but real, characters that readers, especially women, will be able to connect with. I highly recommend The Fiction Class, and am looking forward to more by Susan Breen.