|Matthew Sharpe, assistant professor of English, is the author of “The Sleeping Father,” which will be part of Norwalk’s “One Book, One Community” celebration.|
| More than 20 publishers rejected the manuscript for “The Sleeping Father.” But one small independent publisher, Soft Skull Press, decided to take a chance. Since then, “The Sleeping Father” has earned critical praise, won the 2004 Independent Publishers Award for fiction in 2004 and been part of the “The Today Show Book Club.”
In April it will receive one more distinction: the town of Norwalk will kick off its first “One Book, One Community” celebration with “The Sleeping Father.” “The success of my book is almost making me revise my glass-is-half-full-of-air outlook on life,” says Sharpe, assistant professor of English. This is Sharpe’s third published book and, so far, his most successful. More than 30,000 copies have been sold since its release in October 2003. The “Sleeping Father” is a dark comedy about Bernard, a divorced father of two teenage children, who accidentally takes two incompatible antidepressant medications and lapses into a coma. When he comes out of it, his son and daughter attempt to rehabilitate him. “The Sleeping Father combines family drama and social satire with elements of the wacky teen caper, all couched in finely-tuned language that is a pleasure to read,” says William Stowe, the Benjamin Waite Professor of English Language in the English Department. “It stands out for its clarity, and it’s up-to-date and playfully postmodern without being self-important or obscure.”
When writing “The Sleeping Father,” Sharpe wanted to understand the enormous change in American mental healthcare, which he says now relies much more heavily on psychopharmaceuticals than it did even ten years ago.
Sharpe adds that a The New York Times report indicated 120 million Americans took antidepressants in 2002. “I know a lot of people who have been substantially helped by antidepressants, and even therapist friends of mine who favor the talking cure say some of their patients are too depressed to talk without the pills,” Sharpe says. “But still, if half the country’s taking them, I think we can safely say they’re over prescribed.” Characters in “The Sleeping Father” have a comic bent, but Sharpe says they are decidedly realistic.
“The book is always humane,” he says. “The characters may sometimes behave like figures out of a comic book or a laugh-track sitcom, but they are fully developed and elicit caring not just amusement.” Sharpe, who joined the English Department last September, said some of his most profound influences have not been writers but people working in other fields. James Ensor, Julius Hemphill, Marlon Brando, and Violeta Parra, among others, have inspired him.
Sharpe wrote his first story when he was 10 years old about a bulldog who was a construction worker. “It was hard to write that first story and it’s been hard to write every story since then,” he says. “So why do I still do this? Because the career as an international supermodel didn’t pan out.” Sharpe will also make a presentation about “The Sleeping Father” during a luncheon at the Norwalk “Festival of Words” on April 9 at Norwalk Community College. Sharpe’s first book, “Stories from the Tube” is a collection of 10 short stories based on TV advertisements. His first novel, “Nothing is Terrible,” is loosely based on “Jane Eyre” and set in the late 20th century in New York City.
|By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor|