Painting over the Rot: Why Today’s Fiction about Work Whitewashes Reality: Diana Sheets's New Novel, The Cusp of Dreams

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Arguing that the death of realism has killed the novel, writer Diana Sheets releases a new work of fiction that dares to examine how the loss of the manufacturing industry has contributed to the toxic job market.

The Cusp of Dreams

"The unraveling of the American Dream isn't pretty."

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A recent article in the New York Times Book Review by Jennifer Schuessler argues for the importance of the workplace as a subject for literary fiction. But which workplace should we portray? Should it be the workplace favored by today’s “layoff lit,” which enables us to feel virtuous for caring about people less fortunate than we are? Or, should the focus be redder in tooth and claw—the déclassé realism of people capable of doing almost anything to keep their paycheck? Diana Sheets clearly favors the latter.

“The unraveling of the American Dream isn’t pretty,” says Sheets, whose new novel, The Cusp of Dreams, presents the brutalizing and demeaning struggle for survival (by men and women) in an age of decline. “Fiction that sentimentalizes the tumble down the economic ladder is not true to today’s corrosive reality.”

The role of women in “real workplace literature”

In The Cusp of Dreams, a riveting portrait of the corporate hamster wheel and its concomitant miseries, Diana Sheets takes the genre to its next logical—and much needed—step: what happens to a culture when women become as ruthless as their male counterparts in their pursuit of the American Dream?

The answer is surprising from an author who strongly believes that the vaulted Western literary tradition has been severely compromised by cultural relativism, the quest for social justice, and the feminization of our society.

“The culture wars have been terrible for Western literature,” says Dr. Sheets, who worked in corporate sales for a dozen years before moving to the Midwest to write. There she maintains an academic affiliation with the English and History Departments at the University of Illinois.

“Truth and excellence,” Sheets continues, “have been replaced by a quest for social justice and ‘fairness’ that reflects the feminization of our culture. When ‘virtue politics’ trumps truth and excellence, the world of ideas dies.”

Are female corporate drones, desperate to keep their jobs and capable of almost anything, good for literature? You’ll have to read Sheets to find out. One thing is certain, life becomes ever more treacherous.

The literary merits of The Cusp of Dreams have hardly escaped notice. Sheets’s “slate-hard realism,” writes Howard Wolf, Emeritus Professor and Senior Fellow at the State University of New York at Buffalo, “serves as a welcome antidote to the often frivolous word games of extreme postmodern experimental fiction. The last chapter brings Gatsby's funeral to mind.”

Michael F. Shaughnessy, professor of psychology at Eastern New Mexico University, calls the novel a “roller coaster of a ride” that is “sociological . . . and psychological, addressing the concerns of modern men and women in the skullduggery of sales and business.”

As with any good roller coaster, you’re as likely to feel queasiness and fear as you are exhilaration. In The Cusp of Dreams, Diana Sheets deftly extends the parameters of “layoff lit” to include female Willy Lomans and Ryan Binghams. Whether that’s good for society is still “up in the air.” However, there’s no doubt that carnage in the workplace is the incubator for great literature.

“A sequence of fast-moving stories about the competitive, inhumane world of corporate America. Sheets knows this environment from the inside out and recreates the verbal bluster, stunted emotions, and real pain of her characters with great authenticity. She is the John Cheever of sales management.”

—Christoph Irmscher, professor of English at Indiana University; author of Public Poet, Private Man: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at 200 and The Poetics of Natural History: From John Bartram to William James

For more information, please visit Diana Sheets’s website, http://www.literarygulag.com.

About the Author

Diana E. Sheets, PhD, has a Research Scholar appointment in the English and History Departments at the University of Illinois. Prior to moving to Illinois to write fiction, political commentary, and literary criticism, she worked in sales and sales management in the metropolitan New York.

Media Contact: Victor Gulotta
Gulotta Communications, Inc.
617-630-9286
http://www.booktours.com
victor(at)booktours(dot)com

Questions for Interviewers

1. You decry the “feminization” of Western literature as a disaster for American culture. Is the adoption of masculine values by women in the workplace any better? How?

2. What did you sell when you were in corporate sales? How did your experience in the working world shape your novel The Cusp of Dreams?

3. Tell us about your website, http://www.literarygulag.com. What does the name refer to? Why did you create this website? How does your literary criticism and political commentary relate to your fiction?

4. How do men differ from women in the corporate workplace? Are these differences explored in The Cusp of Dreams?

5. Which is more disturbing—the brutish corporate world or the sanctimonious literary realm as explored in your essays posted on http://www.literarygulag.com? What is—or should be—the goal of the writer in describing life as it is experienced today?

6. How have stories changed over the course of the last fifty years? Why is your novel in defiance of current trends? What purpose should fiction serve, and why is it now failing to deliver?

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Victor Gulotta
Gulotta Communications, Inc.
617-630-9286
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