Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Fiction Class by Susan Breen

On paper, Arabella Hicks seems more than qualified to teach her fiction class on the Upper West Side: she’s a writer herself; she’s passionate about books; she’s even named after the heroine in a Georgette Heyer novel.

On the other hand, she’s thirty-eight, single, and has been writing the same book for the last seven years. And she has been distracted recently: on the same day that Arabella teaches her class she also visits her mother in a nursing home outside the city. And every time they argue. Arabella wants the fighting to stop, but, as her mother puts it, “Just because we’re family, doesn’t mean we have to like each other.”

When her class takes a surprising turn and her lessons start to spill over into her weekly visits, she suddenly finds she might be holding the key to her mother’s love and, dare she say it, her own inspiration. After all, as a lifelong lover of books, she knows the power of a good story.

My take: 3 looks
I enjoyed reading this book. It is wonderfully ... constructed. I struggle here because I don't want to say that it is well-written, because I don't really think it is...It is however, beautifully put together. The sentences are composed so that I smiled often as I read them. The paragraphs are descriptive and full of body. The story, though, left me wanting.

I think Breen wants me to see Arabella as a flawed heroine. Someone who has struggled her entire life with who she is and what her relationship is with her mother means. Instead, she is sophomoric, neurotic and a little pathetic. The relationship with Chuck is completely unbelievable in that it happens much too fast. She pushes him away, she runs into his embrace, she goes home with him, where "he prepares to love her". Very immature and underdeveloped to be the kind of romance that I think Breen is after: a life that Arabella's mother and father never had. Instead, it feels shallow and superficial.

The crux of the book is Arabella's relationship with her mother, who became bitter and distant after her husband (Arabella's father) dies. As Arabella reads her mother's story, she is irritated by the character of Annie, but doesn't seem to see that she IS Annie and is every bit as needy, neurotic, self-serving and one-dimensional as the character. In the end of the story, Arabella finds that the mother understands the daughter and the daughter is somehow redeemed because she is shoving her dying father's fish dinner into her mouth. <sigh> See what I mean?

Breen did not pull me into this ride. Instead, I stood on the road and admired the vehicle. The craft of the writing redeems this book for me, and I will read another by this author, in the hopes that her writing matures as Arabella never did.

Recommended, but don't rush to it.

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