Saturday, April 2, 2011

My Hollywood by Mona Simpson

Nannies and mommies are wary of each other in affluent West LA

I enjoyed this absorbing old fashioned novel addressing two traditional subjects – love and money. Not the love of a man  – but the love of a Baby. The novel is about Claire, a composer in her late thirties who is overwhelmed by caring for her infant, as well as baffled by her husband, who suddenly wants to change careers and coasts to become a comedy writer with ungodly work hours. They decide to hire a nanny and luckily end up with Lola, a fiftyish down to earth Filipina. The novel switches between their narrative voices. Lola has the much more powerful and distinctive voice. Claire is passive and sometimes you feel like she’s whining about being rich – but that’s part of the satire, I think. All of the American mothers depicted here come off as shallow materialistic commodities.

The world of wives and nannies are shown with small cutting little scenes – the two worlds are completely different. One group drives BMW’s, one takes endless bus lines. The nannies’ world is harrowing and tragic – and yet the women, all recent immigrants, really strive together and protect each other from the various degrees of exploitation. The American women are competitive about their producer husbands, mansions, kids and pools. (Pools play an important thematic and plot point.)

The book’s not perfect. If I was complaining last week about Philip Roth’s characterization of women, then I must point out the tissue thin characterization of men. These sex avoiding women aren't in thrall to their men the way they are to their babies – Guys only contribute $ and an X or Y chromosome. And the ending of the novel is rather dubious.

But overall a really valuable look at LA.  America need more novels like this.

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