Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Review: The Fiction Class

This isn't something that happens to me very often: I was browsing the "new arrivals" shelves at the library a couple of weeks ago while the kids had a snack in the cafe, and I pulled out this book by Susan Breen. I almost stuck it back on the shelf, thinking about the stack of to-be-read books already by my bed, but I was intrigued.

And then I was so happy when I finished reading the mentally taxing Jayber Crow and started in with The Fiction Class. What an excellent book this turned out to be! The story centers on Arabella, a struggling writer who teaches an evening writing class to adults; the writing class itself; and on Arabella and her mother. Each chapter focuses on an aspect of writing: character, plot, theme, etc. and how this relates to Arabella, her class, and her mother. Breen's writing is concise and matter-of-fact, and I like that. The characters are well-rounded and somehow quite familiar, and I like that. Sometimes, being a small-town girl, I find it difficult to relate to novels that feature New York City-types; but Breen's characters could have been transported to anywhere and still made sense to me. (And here I need to clarify that, although I did indeed grow up in New York, I grew up in a small town upstate, which has little if no similarity to New York City except perhaps in the abundance of excellent pizza and wings.)

I loved that the actual writing assignments are included at the end of each chapter. For example, the writing assignment for point of view:

Think about a family gathering: a holiday, a birthday, a funeral. Write about that gathering in the first person from the point of view of a child.
I wished for chunks of time to do each assignment myself. Perhaps I will make that time soon. I did a little searching about the book because I wondered if somewhere in the blogosphere there might be a place where people are doing Breen's exercises on their blogs. I haven't found that yet, but I did find Susan Breen's blog and was inspired to see the tagline on her blog: "publishing a first novel after 25 years of marriage, 4 children, and hundreds of rejections." (Couldn't I at least turn out my poetry chapbook in the next 6 years?)

Turns out that Breen has a monthly contest at her website where she asks for submissions on a certain topic. For the April/May contest, she asks: Write a story using this as the first sentence: “Why are you wearing that?” The winner receives a free autographed copy of her book. Will I submit an entry to this or any future contests on Breen's website? Perhaps. And if a book can pull me out of my writing stupor and inspire me to actually write more than a daily blog, well. That says a lot.

But the books isn't just for writers or writing teachers. This is just a great book, and I hope to see more by Susan Breen.

1 comment:

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I'm just now getting around to commenting on your new book blog! Well, I mentioned before that I wasn't a fan of this book. I don't know, it just didn't do anything for me. I was on Susan Breen's book tour and was the only dissenting review. I'm glad you enjoyed it though.