Heavy-handed academic fiction by NPR commentator Cheuse (ed., The Sound of Writing, 1991; The Light Possessed, 1990, etc.), whose insights into other writers' literary styles doesn't seem to have rubbed off on his own. There is no reason why good stories can't be written about the lives of middle-class journalists, academics, consultants, and lobbyists--the so-called ""New Class"" that's arisen in America over the last 50 years. The problem seems to be that no one outside that class has yet to try, and all the attempts so far have been suffused with the same unconscious clannishness and self-satisfaction that academics who've gone to the same graduate schools invariably seem to possess. The narrator of ""The Mexican Maid,"" for example, is a typically deracinated American divorcÆ’ named Birnhaus. Lonely and at loose ends since the collapse of his marriage, Birnhaus hires a maid to clean his apartment and promptly falls in love with her--only to find her dead on his floor when he comes home one day. ""The Tunnel"" describes a young college graduate who's maneuvered into a promising Washington job by a Senate aide who has a crush on her, then discovers that she has to put up with the advances of the Senator himself if she's to stay on. ""Dreamland"" portrays a clash of two cultures: the tidy, dull world of Boston software-designer Mike Quinn becomes confused when he takes a job in Atlanta and has to start associating with people who drink and raise hell at football games. The last and longest stow, ""On the Millstone River,"" is the memoir of a young man who goes to college, spends a year in Europe, then returns home to live in New York and become a writer. Pompous, dull, and provincial, Cheuse's characters never seem to realize that it's the narrowness of their own world--rather than the strangeness of anyone else's--that's the source of their drama.