Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dr. Bootsie Reads Some Chick Lit

Book Cover: The Nanny DiariesBook Cover: The Nanny Diaries

Earlier this week, I read The Nanny Diaries: A Novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. I was at the Hillsboro Library, looking for a reference in a Pearl S. Buck book, and there it was. I was so surprised to see it here in Pocahontas County that I checked it out. I understand it's been enormously popular, and I've been thinking about why that should be.

It's your basic "job from Hell" story, something most of us have told at some time in our lives. As we irritate our nearest and dearest with our narratives, they inevitably ask us why we don't stand up to the demonic employer or find a new job. If we have self-respect, job options, a green card, we take the advice. If we are very young, very enmeshed in the situation, or very desperate, we persevere, our self-image takes a beating, and eventually we get fired anyway. Our young narrator, "Nanny," takes the second route. Presumably, the authors, who seem to have based the character on themselves, have learned from their experience. Clearly, they have profited.

While it's fun to tell one's own "job from Hell" story, it's no fun at all to listen to someone else's rant. These authors have somehow gotten their huge, enthusiastic audience to join with them in the fun of trashing the demonic employer. They lost me about 75 pages into the book, but then I'm much older than either the 21-year-old nanny or the 35-year-old evil mother/boss/New York socialite. I've also had the "job from Hell" several times, and I knew all the stages before they came up in the book. "Quit now....quit now, before they humiliate you more," I kept saying, but then there would have been no best-selling novel.

You've got to hand it to the Ms's McLaughlin and Kraus: They are market-savvy. Did the book have more merit than that? Two things keep me from answering with a flat "no." First, there were all those nanny and governess quotes from classic literature--Jane Eyre, "Romeo and Juliet", Gone with the Wind, Peter Pan, "The Cherry Orchard." These were chilling in context. I've got to reread Jane Eyre, because I don't remember this quote:

You should hear mama on the chapter of governesses: Mary and I have had, I should think, a dozen at least in our day; half of them detestable and the rest ridiculous, and all are incubi--were they not, mama?

Second, I think the horrors of Mrs. X's dissolving marriage may foreshadow Nanny's relationship with her Harvard Hottie, who lives in the same apartment building as Mr. X. Mr. X replaces his wives every few years, and young H.H. has been watching this since childhood. Nanny believes Mrs. X is jealous of her new relationship. In my experience, bosses like Mrs. X don't even see their employees as fellow humans, let alone feel envy or jealousy toward them. Nanny is youthfully oblivious to the future, while Mrs. X is oblivious in her self-absorbed misery. Are the authors subtly drawing connections here? These are the things I like best about the book.

No comments: