“How do you encourage curiosity in a place where thoughts are policed?”
Joanna Dunhill knows just how difficult it can be working with family, and now that she has an opportunity to finally, in mid-life, achieve professional and financial success, family—and Saudi Arabian culture—stand in the way. Author Sheila Grinell flawlessly depicts female empowerment and cultural dissonance in this story about the difficulties of owning and growing a small business. Her new novel, THE CONTRACT (She Writes Press, October 2019, Original Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-63152-648-0, $16.95), explores the many “contracts” we enter in our lives, implicitly in marriage and with siblings, as well as explicitly on the job.
Joanna and her husband, Ev Dana, operate a museum design company to which Ev supplies brawn and creativity in an abstracted, laid-back way that irks Jo no end. Given her drive and management skills, though, she’s convinced they can win a much-prized deal with the Saudi Arabian government. The mission: to create a new children’s museum focused on renewable energy.
When Jo’s competitor and archrival, Phil Owen, becomes involved in the deal, Jo must find a way to look past their personal drama and join forces. Harder still, she must probe the limits of what she will be allowed to accomplish in Saudi Arabia as she seeks to expand opportunities for the mothers and daughters who will patronize the future museum. Meanwhile, it seems Ev would rather pass on the entire project and explore one of his own at a local art gallery. Will Joanna’s over-ambitiousness and Ev’s side-gig get in the way of both their business and their marriage?
“The test was about to begin. Not the presentation she and Ev would make to the review committee–they knew how to present their qualifications. No, the test would be learning the ropes of a society that repressed women yet where the potential client, the deputy director of the agency that had summoned them, was female.”
In THE CONTRACT, Grinell draws complex characters who share many of the struggles Americans face in business, especially when confronted with gender and cultural differences. Even here, where we enjoy the freedom to choose our own paths, we are often unsure how to take the next step.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sheila Grinell spent forty years developing science centers in the US and consulting on museum projects around the world, including in Saudi Arabia. She turned to literature in her sixties, publishing a debut novel, Appetite, in 2016. The Contract is her second work of fiction. Born in a taxi in Manhattan, she studied at The Bronx High School of Science, Harvard University, and the University of California at Berkeley. She lives in Phoenix with her husband and their dog.