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Author: Diana E. Sheets, PhD
Author: Diana E. Sheets, PhD
American Suite, described by author Dr. Diana E. Sheets as “a contemporary historical novel about life in America today disguised as ‘chick lit’”, is a novel written in the form of journal entries by three women: a mother, and her two daughters, all of whom have distinctive characters that seem continuously to be at conflict with one another. Essentially, the work, which is a spoof of conventional American society, mores and literature, was written in reaction to the emotional neediness of the stereotypical female reader.
For anyone who has not
found themselves at home either in rural America or in a writer’s
group, the lead character, Arisa Selby, is an absolute treat. In an
attempt to come to terms with her experience of 9/11, she flees New
York City to try to find herself amidst the “Flatlanders” of the
Midwest. Her sense of emotional disjointedness and acerbic NYC wit
bring her into head-on conflict with the perfectly mannered “Overly
Friendly People” that populate that neck of the woods. As a
fictionalized memoir writer, Arisa naturally comes, at least
tentatively, to seek refuge in the local writers’ group, the
members of whom she satirizes as representing the genres that they
depict in their writings. That she supplants her latent aggression
and frustration into an ongoing battle waged against miniature garden
marauders (a.k.a. squirrels), as well as, ultimately, against a
perverted Peeping Tom neighbor, with the help of the Crime Guys is
Arisa’s sister, Sophie, presents a less “ditzy” face, and has more conventional concerns, such as how to raise her three young sons in an overwhelmingly male household (even the Labrador and two cats are masculine in gender). Sophie’s strength lies in her ability to counter all misfortunes and temptations that come her way, including her physical attraction to a son’s young tutor. Sophie’s domestic setting in the “Connecticut burbs” allows Sheets to question not only what holds the American family together in trying times, but also the nature and essence of multiculturalism, as her three sons each adopt, albeit it at a superficial level, a different religion: Protestantism, Hinduism and Judaism. The latter is strongly influenced by Arisa and Sophie’s mother’s involvement with a Jewish man that seems, overall, to be the most sane and stable of the whole bunch. His suffering from cancer might be seen as a tinge of black humor on Sheets’ side, indicating that the overall situation in America lends itself to terminal illness.
Sheets certainly exposes the vulnerable underbelly of the nation as a whole, which is what she intended to do with the work. As she says, “I wanted to use this unease, this sense of dislocation, as a means of reimaging America in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when our world was transformed and we lost our innocence, our empowerment, maybe even our entitlement.” An informed and elucidating read, American Suite would make a brilliantly insightful and extremely witty contrast to Woody Allen’s angst-ridden movies if it were to be transformed into a screenplay. Let’s hope that Hollywood is taking note.
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