American Suite Reviewed By Ellen Alexander of Bookpleasures.com
Reviewer Ellen Greiss Alexander:Â Ellen is an accomplished musician, mother of two and the author of seven music books, five teen novels (including her four book series, The Prefab Four) and a book of lyrical poetry. You can contact Ellen or read samples of her books at www.theprefabfour.com.
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Author: Diana E. SheetsISBN: 978-1-934978-33-7
Publisher: Jorge Pinto Books
In American Suite, by Diana E. Sheets, three strong female characters (all from the same family) tell their tale through overlapping diary entries. Rosalyn, Sophie and Arisa Selby, a mother and her two grown daughters, are three very different women with varying religious beliefs, political views and personal relationships. At the core of the story is Arisa's journey to discover who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Her older sister, Sophie, is a wife and mother living a seemingly perfect life in the suburbs while her mother, Rosalyn, is a widow living in the city... a Christian woman claiming to be Jewish.
Arisa is a single, thirty-something woman who uproots herself by moving to the Flatlands, trying her hand at one unsatisfying job after another and, all the while, sleeping her way from one loser to another and unable or unwilling to settle down. Her first foray into mad love is with a married man with children; then onto a sleazy Hollywood (aka: illegally-filmed-porn) director before finding true love with an African American, baptist, ex-con named Roy. She even has her very own Peeping Tom / Perv living nearby - who she trains her 'stolen-from-her-ex's' Doberman, Gunther, to attack bodily and mutilate. None of this would seem too severe if not for the fact that she left a perfectly good relationship with Ben (which we only find out the truth about at the very end of the book), a lucrative job in Manhattan and her entire family to chase a dream that always seems to be just beyond her grasp.
Sophie is a typical suburban soccer mom who feels the need to have others think she lives the perfect life with the perfect husband and children. But she is hopelessly bored, frustrated and lonely to the point that she even considers having an affair (can you say cougar-mom?) with her son's tutor. Add to that the confusion of having three sons practicing different and opposing religious customs and beliefs and one can almost sympathize with Sophie's need to occasionally withdraw from the whole lot of them. Even when her husband, John, finds himself out of a job and Sophie's marriage seems at risk, she still keeps it all to herself and doesn't reveal her daily anguish to her family. The only person she confides in is her therapist - the one thing Sophie, Arisa and Rosalyn all have in common.
Although a widow, Rosalyn has found her true soul mate in Saul. He is everything Rosalyn is not - kind to a fault, compassionate, family-oriented... and Jewish. She speaks in a kind of broken Yiddlish (half English, half Yiddish) which is all the more ridiculous because a) she isn't Jewish; b) her family cannot understand her; and c) did I mention she isn't even Jewish? When Saul is diagnosed with cancer and subsequently dies a rather quick and painful death, Rosalyn is once again sent into a tailspin of loneliness and grief beyond anything either of her daughter's can grasp.
By the end of the story we learn that Sophie gets her life and marriage back on track and she writes her memoir entitled: Sophie's Seven Simple Steps to the Perfect Life. Rosalyn has converted to Judaism and written her own memoir entitled: The Hadassah Chronicles. And Arisa finally comes face to face with her demons (without giving too much away, let's just say that she survived the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center but not without suffering a tremendous personal loss) after writing a bestselling novel that would make your grandmother blush.
The novel concludes with the Peeping Tom / Perv seeking revenge for the loss of his family jewels. He breaks into Arisa's house and shots are fired. There is no actual revealing of specific details but rather a who-shot-JR? kind of cliffhanger. It is tabloid journalism at its best or, as we like to say, a typical news day in dysfunctional America. As in Dvorak's composition of the same name: an interweaving of major and minor themes; a succession of dances and a series of varying movements, Sheets' American Suite is a clever character-driven novel that'll have you laughing and crying and even rooting for that illusive happy ending.
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