Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mary Poppins would've killed them all

The Nanny Diaries
Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

I was introduced to this by somebody who insisted on reading her favorite passage, and laughed so hard during said reading that when I read it for myself, I discovered entire paragraphs of text that had previously been indecipherable fits of giggling.

It's that good.

It's also that horrific.

If there resides in you any humanity at all (I borrowed some when i read it), you will spend the entirety of this book torn between two emotions: gales of laughter brought on by Nanny's descriptions of her surroundings, charge, employers, and conversations, and burning fury at the same things.

Nanny works for Mr. and Mrs. X, raising their 4-year-old because they are far too busy to notice that there is a miniature person living in their apartment (I have occupied, for periods up to years in length, entire buildings smaller than their home). Mr. X is some sort of philandering banker (I'm not spoiling anything for you there) while Mrs. X... ok, as near as I can tell, she divides her time between avoiding all contact with her son, acting like she spends all her time her son, berating and abusing the hired help, and spending untold sums of money on labels which are almost universally unfamiliar to me.

In the course of the book (again, I'm not ruining anything for you) it becomes obvious that A) Mr. X carouses through life with the single emotion of contempt, B) Mrs. X isn't on nearly enough medication, C) Grayer (the kid) exists only as an accessory and conversation piece. They have no contact with their son. That's what nannies are for! I was particularly pleased when a young playmate of Grayer ("I have two daddies!") is picked up from a playdate by one of her gay fathers. Mrs. X asks why they don't have ananny to take care of some mundane task he mentions, and he replies that he wants to spend that time with their child, because "they're not this age forever!" Her facial expression makes it clear that this was her hope, rather than a regret.

Her first week on the job is fine (except for the rough transition, as they fire the old nanny without really telling anyone), but it quickly becomes the Job From Hell, and threatens her ability to graduate NYU, find an apartment or job, and maintain some semblance of health. The one reprieve is the Harvard Hottie upstairs. This is where I break in to point out that she's falling--and how!--for another privileged rich dude whose hair is really awfully long and whose only fault appears to be his poor choice in friends. He's the least believable character in the book because he's so damned perfect, and yet so close to what she's coming to hate. That's sort of scary; as awful as the Xes are--to their son, to each other, to the people who make their lifestyle possible--they are completely believable characters. In my heart of hearts, I know such people exist, and not just because I always see them on Law and Order. Their parenting style is "well-funded neglect," and if not for the constant stream of Nannies they and their contemporaries employ, we'd find ourselves beset with legions of preppy psychopaths.

Lucky us they have Nanny.

Happy ending? Debatable. You keep hoping for her, but the situation just keeps getting worse (and more complicated). And although she wants to tell them off for all the horrible things they've done to her and their son--I wanted her to do it, too--she manages to end the book with Grace. I still hope Grayer gets adopted by some nice bumpkins in West Virginia.

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posted by reyn at 12:38 PM


Blogger Elizabeth said...

Is this...chick lit?!

For some reason, I kept expecting ket's hunky armed forces operatives to swoop in and rescue Nanny.

Last question: fiction or non-fiction? I couldn't tell.

3/02/2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

If it were, would I have read it? Search deep within your soul, elizabeth, and you'll find that you already have your answer.

No, it isn't. It's more about the relationship between Nanny and her charge, or the lack of one between him and his parents, than it is about the relationship between Nanny and the boy upstairs. In the entire book, they only have two dates. OK, one pizza-and-carton-of-Ben&Jerry's and one "carnal frosting frenzy". For the most part, he's just somebody else she bitches to about he situation.

Fiction, but it was written by two ladies who spent three years as NY Nannies, so I'm sure they drew on some personal experience for at least the basic idea. The scary part is that it could have been non-fiction, and I would've believed every word.

3/05/2007 7:24 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Hmm, I don't know, soul is telling me that yours likes thigh-high boots and Appletinis, and has a 2 year "preferred member" subscription to Cosmo.

[Since my soul so conveniently provided the correct answer, I felt safe in disregarding everything you subsequently wrote.]

3/05/2007 9:49 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

Just because I like those things doesn't mean I like them for me.

3/06/2007 7:25 AM  

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